All his life, Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson) has lived in the residential care of Dublin's Carrigmore Home for the Disabled. Michael has cerebral palsy, uses a motorized wheelchair, and has a significant speech impairment. Most people find it difficult to make out what he is saying, and simply stop trying. But Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy), a new arrival at Carrigmore, is not like most people -- or any of the other Carrigmore residents. Rory is able to understand Michael, but has less physical mobility than Michael. Rory has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle-wasting condition. All Rory has are the use of two of his fingers, partial movements of his head -- and unlimited use of his mouth.
These two young men form a friendship that empowers them to look beyond Carrigmore and its inflexible supervisor Eileen (Brenda Fricker). After the rebellious and outspoken Rory masterminds a field trip to a pub and nightclub, Michael is emboldened and motivated to finesse an appeal to Ability Ireland for a personal-assistance grant. His appeal is successful, enabling the two friends to move into a flat of their own and recruit the disarming Siobhán (Romola Garai) to assist them with their daily needs. Rory and Michael both develop growing feelings for Siobhán and their rivalry for her attention only further accelerates their shared journey towards true independence and liberation.