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IN SHORT: A beautiful movie, in every sense of the word.
There are two things I can report about the month of August and the habits of those who release films in this month. If the distributor is a major studio, the release of a big film in August usually means that the suits have no faith in their product (ie. if it was a blockbuster, they would've released in July for a full summer run). That leaves the independent distributors, who hope that their product will rise above the major sludge that usually gets dumped in the month. Most of the indie product, sorry to say, isn't worth reporting on. God knows I sit through most all of it.
I sit through most all of it because once or twice in a while a laser bright spotlight comes bursting out of the sludge. Getting two of 'em in the same week (Saving Grace, a comedy, is the other one) is like dying and going to Good Review Heaven. So let us put the Cranky stuff aside and sing the praises of writer/actor Polly Draper (best known for her work on thirtysomething) and director Gary Winick, whose film The Tic Code does the almost impossible. It takes a medical malady (in this case Tourette's Syndrome -- more on that below) and refuses to preach or teach or talk down; it finds the very human heart in a story of a twelve year old boy and his single mom, his refuge in jazz music (an almost prodigy like skill on the piano) and a musician who comes to befriend them both. Said musician (played by Gregory Hines) also has Tourette's. That plot point alone would normally trigger all sorts of cynical comments from yours truly. In this case the fine line is walked so confidently that there is no negative comment to be written by these fingers.
Laura (Draper) is the almost reclusive single mom who works as a seamstress out of her apartment. It isn't that she isn't available. Raising a kidlet whose mannerisms are, to be fair, unusual is difficult enough when trying to impress strangers. As a mom, she has to protect and raise her child as best as she can. For his part, Miles (Christopher George Marquette) holds himself together as best as possible, though deep down in his twelve year old mindset is the feeling that he is responsible for making his mom miserable and chasing his musician father away. Miles' case is fairly mild -- apparently only 15% of the Tourette's cases are as verbally abusive as television writers like to make 'em out to be -- and vanishes entirely when he loses himself in music. With best friend Todd (Desmond Robertson), he hangs out and practices at the legendary Village Vanguard where the owners (including Tony Shalhoub) keep a close eye on the prodigy. It's a far cry from school, where Miles is constantly tormented by a fat bully named Denny (Robert Iler) and a sympathetic, but equally frustrated music teacher (Carol Kane). The school board insists that Miles wear a medicated patch which tranqs him to the point that the tics and guttural verbal noises stop, at the expense of his music.
Into the story comes Tyrone Pike (Hines), a jazz musician who has a much milder case but an unlimited amount of repressed anger about the condition. The emotional stories that play out at both the kidlet and adult levels are touching and real. The males bond. Tyrone and Laura almost do too, and that failure pushes the story towards a conclusion that had the little voice in the back of Cranky's head screaming "Don't you dare do this. Don't you dare!" at the top of it's decibel free range.
Besides the fine acting of the principals, every friend of a friend seems to have been called in to support the project. You'll find cameos from Camryn Manheim, Bill Nunn, Fisher Stevens, David Johansen and jazz musicians John B Williams, Dick Berk and Carlos McKinney. Hines' solos are performed by an off-screen Alex Foster and the jazz score is by Draper's husband, Michael Wolff, who led the band on the Arsenio Hall show and is, in a not so small way, responsible for getting this story -- in large part based on his own life with Tourette's -- made. Like the character of Tyrone, Wolff didn't want this story done, at first. He changed his mind. We're glad he did.
If the soundtrack CD comes even close to the deliriously cool jazz in the film, it's a must add to the shelf.
Most folk will head out to the big name starrer flicks this week. If you're in one of the limited cities to get The Tic Code and want to be touched in a way that only the really good movies can touch you (which means this'll bore the crap out of most of the teens) see this one.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Tic Code, he would have paid . . .
Damn thing almost made me cry.
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