|The Tic Code
Tourette's syndrome may be an affliction that is very misunderstood, in part because of media
portrayals that exaggerate for laughs (as in the execrable Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo). True, there
was 1997's Niagra, Niagra that featured a strong role for actress Robin Tunney, but that film painted
those with Tourette's in cliched fashion as foul-mouthed and even somewhat unpleasant. (And despite
critical praise, the film barely registered with American audiences and quickly was consigned
to late-night runs on cable.) Finally, someone got it right -- in part because of a personal connection.
Actress Polly Draper (best known as Ellyn on the zeitgeist TV show "thirtysomething") has written
and served as one of the producer of The Tic Code. Eschewing the disease of the week treatment,
Draper has fashioned a neat, if flawed, movie about a pre-teen jazz prodigy who just happens
to have Tourette's and a saxophonist, a jazz great, who also is afflicted. She has additionally followed
the classic dictum of "write what you know," as her husband, musician Michael Wolff (the former
bandleader of "The Arsenio Hall Show") has a mild case of Tourette's.
Instead of using the syndrome as the centerpiece of the conflict, Draper merely uses it as a
backdrop to explore more human issues. Miles (the gifted youngster Christopher George Marquette)
can express himself via the piano but he harbors shame and guilt over his Tourette's, convinced that
it was one of the factors that caused his parents' divorce. Whenever his father, a successful musician
now living in California, calls or visits, Miles struggles to hide his tics, either via medication or will
power. If he employs the latter, he suffers residually. His mother Laura (Draper) is warm, loving and
supportive. She encourages her son to be himself, a rare gift to any child. Not that she's depicted
as perfect; far from it. Being a single parent takes it toll but, as written and acted by Draper, Laura's
plight is both understandable and believable.
By not taking his prescribed medicine, Miles is able to express his feelings through his music
but his behavior in school can be troubling, particularly to his teacher (Carol Kane) and the class
bully (Robert Iler, Anthony Junior on "The Sopranos"). When not struggling in school, Miles hangs
out in a local club where he practices piano and catches the attention of Tyrone Pike (Gregory Hines).
Finding out they share more than just an affinity for music, Miles and Tyrone bond. When Laura meets
Tyrone, sparks fly but as they grow closer, the issue of Tourette's becomes more of an obstacle.
Under the direction of Gary Winick, The Tic Code has a nice quality to it, but it doesn't
quite fulfill its promise. Winick captures the milieu of the jazz world in Manhattan (even filming in the
landmark club the Village Vanguard) and has peppered the cast with cameos with well-known faces
(Camryn Manheim, Tony Shalhoub, Fisher Stevens). Still, Draper's schematic script doesn't quite
piece everything together. She clearly has a distinctive voice and knows how to craft
three-dimensional characters but she is not above descending into melodramatic cliché. The
mother-son relationship is nicely portrayed as is the love story (where mercifully race is not an
issue until Tyrone invokes it as a shield against facing the truth). Hines and Draper share a pleasant
chemistry and he delivers a terrific, nuanced performance.
There's so much to admire about The Tic Code, which clearly was a labor of love, that
one is almost willing to overlook its flaws, particularly in its final third. Draper had specific intentions
in her choices but her means of achieving them are slightly upsetting. Audiences, though seem
to be more forgiving. The movie has been a success on the festival circuit, picking up a number
of awards. It's certainly not worthy of the Academy, but it certainly stands out as above the average
fare at the cineplexes.
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running time: 91 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.