Walt Koontz (Robert De Niro) is a retired security officer, cited for his heroism, and now living alone in an unsavory apartment building on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He regards his neighbors with contempt, especially the "faggot" upstairs, Busty Rusty, (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a transvestite and singer/piano player at a popular drag club. During a drug-related shoot-out with an upstairs neighbor, Walt attempts to help, but suffers a stroke that leaves him with paralysis of his right side and significant speech impairment. Walt's status as hero is radically changed. His friends become awkward around him.

Walt refuses to leave the apartment building for treatment. His doctor (Mahdur Jaffrey) recommends singing lessons to improve his speech. Walt reluctantly seeks help from Rusty. The relationship between a bigot and a drag queen is an unlikely one that begins with mutual loathing and considerable stereotyping on both sides. Eventually each is forced to renegotiate his own prejudices.


The film is a provocative and effective tool to discuss issues of diversity, disability and difference. While some critics have called this a contrived odd-couple movie that does not move beyond stereotypes, it seems that stereotyping and its effects ARE the central point of this film.

Every character--including Walt, the heroic ex-cop reduced to what the drag queens call Mr. My Left Foot, or the Indian female physician, or the Jamaican physiotherapist, or Rusty, the transvestite seeking surgery to become "all she,"--challenges expectations about ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Walt's awkwardness with non-white males is palpable in the film. His discomfort serves as a good starting point for discussion with medical students and residents about their own unease around those who are different from themselves.

Primary Source

MGM/Avant Guarde Cinema