“Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy” focuses on two women with disabilities who strive to maintain their independence in a society that is often more interested in institutionalizing and warehousing the less-than-able.
Diana Braun has Down’s Syndrome, and for the past 38 years she’s been the nurse/assistant to Kathy Conour, who has severe cerebral palsy. Conour requires a motorized wheelchair for mobility and a breath-powered talking computer for speech. In the course of the film’s 40-minute running time, the duo attempt to lobby elected officials in their native Illinois and on Capitol Hill about the rights of the disabled.
Their efforts, however, are derailed for a while when clumsy Amtrak workers wind up breaking Kathy’s hip when attempting to load her wheelchair on a train. In the midst of that trauma is Diana’s vain attempts to re-establish contact with her estranged mother, whose violence resulted in Diana being removed from her family’s home during her childhood.
Filmmaker Alice Elliott leaves a great many holes in this real-life narrative – it’s never clear who is organizing the women’s travels or how they are able to afford a nice home and modern car, particularly at one point when Diana admits the pair has about $200 in their joint checking account.
The film ends with the women receiving a special award for their activism work, although the complete details of their involvement in advocacy measures relating to the disabled is barely acknowledged (just what did they do to deserve awards?).
Perhaps a longer running time would have given this film the depth and scope it truly requires. In its current state, it’s too elusive with details to have any genuine impact.