It’s rare to see a dramatic film where the lead characters are handicapped. However, in Wheels, directed by Tim Gagliardo and Donavon Warren, the main characters Drake and Micky, are paraplegics. These two men who use wheelchairs form an unlikely friendship, which evolves more from dependency than anything else due to drug addiction and depression.
Mickey (Warren) suffers from depression and unsolved family abuse issues, which have led to suicidal tendencies. In a last-ditch effort to end his life, Mickey meets Drake (Patrick Hume), a homeless junkie with a rabbit, who has no problem helping him finish the deed. But instead of taking Mickey out, Drake has him join his crazy, filthy world of addiction. Drake leads Mickey down the proverbial rabbit hole but not without a bit of fun and games, although brutal and rough. Drake becomes a type of mentor and eventual friend to Mickey.
As a story about finding one’s path, Wheels certainly makes anyone feel fortunate for their health and mobility. Mickey’s tale is told through flashbacks and challenging moments, and we watch as Mickey is sent to the depths of hell and back. Understanding the mental breakdown of each character comes through the sharp writing and observations of how one falls into addiction. To watch men in wheelchairs do this is quite eye-opening as it isn’t easy, even if the cast is only acting.
“…Mickey meets Drake, a homeless junkie with a rabbit…”
The deliberate and elaborate filth and trash to create Micky and Drake’s debilitating world is over-the-top and adds to the duo’s journey. Along with the art direction, sets, and locations, Gagliardo and Warren should be commended for coaxing such heartfelt performances from the leads. It is incredibly difficult to watch any person, much less a disabled one, do these actions, but the entire cast and crew strive to make it as believably and heart-wrenching as possible.
For most, Wheels presents a bad dream to wake up from. But, as a reality for those who are handicapped with drug addiction, it is a living nightmare from which there is no escape. Mickey does try to accept therapy, although it is not entirely realized until the end. However, it eventually motivates him to finally move forward and try to walk, a metaphor for the film. It’s also not about the physical movement but more about living with purpose.
There are some great moments in Wheels where the duo roll across highways, highjack a car, jump from bridges, and crawl across unthinkable spaces — just to name a few. These death-defying stunts are incredible and help add depth to the drama and stakes. This is made even more so by the fact that Mickey and Drake are in wheelchairs. There is also some excellent underwater photography supported by good moody music. However, it’s the backstories and these two men’s mere existences that keep you glued to the screen to the end for this almost two-hour film. Perhaps a little contrived, it’s an adventure that’s hardly seen on screen and makes one wonder how close to reality it might be.