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Movies
'Tic Code'

Tourette quartet Jazzy family and friend deal with boy's condition in 'Tic Code'

Friday, September 22, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Don't let the subject matter -- Tourette's syndrome -- scare you away from "The Tic Code," a highly personal film written by and starring Polly Draper. Fans of "thirtysomething" will remember her as Ellyn Warren, Hope's single gal pal who had the throaty voice and job at City Hall.

 
 
'Tic Code'


RATING: R for language

STARRING: Polly Draper, Christopher George Marquette

DIRECTOR: Gary Winick

WEB SITE: www.theticcode.com

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars

   
 

In real life, Draper is married to jazz pianist Michael Wolff, who was the bandleader on "The Arsenio Hall Show" and who came to Pittsburgh in May 1999 for a Marvin Hamlisch pops concert. Wolff has a mild case of Tourette's syndrome and he struggled with accepting or acknowledging it, Draper says in the movie's production notes.

When Wolff's 10-year-old cousin began showing symptoms of the neurological disorder, the boy's mother was told it was psychological. Wolff, whose own mother had told him that and who knew it to be untrue and unfair, began warming to the idea of Draper's movie.

In "Tic Code," opening today at the Denis, Draper plays the mother of a 12-year-old named Miles (Christopher George Marquette), a talented jazz pianist who has Tourette's. His symptoms include head nods, eye twitches, hiccupy noises and compulsive touching and rearranging -- lining up the labels on food cans in the grocery.

He's a bright kid who worships the jazz greats and hangs out with his best friend, another budding musician, at the Village Vanguard club in Greenwich Village. They suck down Cokes and soak in the atmosphere, much to the amusement of the middle-aged men running the joint.

Miles' mother, Laura, is a tailor who works out of their New York apartment. Miles' father, Michael (James McCaffery), is a world-famous musician who lives in Los Angeles and is ashamed and misinformed about Miles' condition. That doesn't stop Miles from worshipping his father from afar.

Miles' world changes when he meets an acclaimed jazz saxophonist named Tyrone (Gregory Hines, smooth as ever) at the club. Tyrone has personal insight into Tourette's, but he doesn't like to talk about it. Miles is thrilled when Tyrone takes a shine to Laura, and she returns the affection. But how Miles, Laura, Tyrone and Michael deal with the neurological disorder -- or don't deal with it -- will have life-changing consequences.

"Tic Code" turns on the performance of Marquette, whose experience includes commercials, a recurring role on "Another World" and prime-time TV guest spots. He does not have Tourette's syndrome, nor did he play the piano before Wolff started giving him lessons. A double does the fancy keyboard work.

He is completely credible as Miles, offering something beyond a bundle of nervous mannerisms. Although part of his performance is physical, even in scenes where he tries to contain and control his tics, he has a range of other emotions to play -- joy, anger, embarrassment, despondency, hope.

"Tic Code," directed by Gary Winick, also features a half-dozen recognizable stars in cameos or small roles. Camryn Manheim, for instance, is a client of Laura's. Bill Nunn and Tony Shalhoub run the jazz club, Carol Kane is a music teacher and Robert Iler, better known as Anthony Soprano Jr. on the HBO mob series, is a bully.

By the way, no one in "Tic Code" has coprolalia, which is the uncontrollable use of socially inappropriate words or phrases such as curses. That symptom appears in about 15 percent of all cases, which explains its absence here.

"Tic Code" has all the markings of a Lifetime movie that is part information, part entertainment, plus a fairy-tale romance specific to this set of characters. It also has a boy desperately searching for a father figure in his day-to-day life. That is a universal problem that has nothing to do with tics.



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