Matt Duhamel’s documentary What Makes Me Tic? takes a look at a select group of individuals living with Tourette’s Syndrome. Focused on organizing a charity walk for Tourette’s, Natasha is a young girl experiencing a series of evolving tics as she grows older. Josh is a librarian who is also a writer and weight lifter, combining all his loves in his popular book, “The World’s Strongest Librarian.” Calvert continues to do more than just cope with his different tics, living as exceptional a life as any other person can achieve.
It’s an informative film, touching on the definitions of what Tourette’s Syndrome really is, and what it entails, beyond the stereotype currently accepted and expected (the person unable to control themselves as they shout random obscenities; do we blame What About Bob? for making that the most prevalent image of Tourette’s Syndrome?). Beyond our main three subjects, we also get a brief look at Peter Jensen, a man with constant debilitating physical tics that eventually underwent a brain surgery that actually seemed to work, making his life more than tolerable. Mostly, though, Natasha, Josh and Calvert are our guides.
I do wonder if the film would’ve been better served as multiple, much shorter, single subject documentaries instead, or even if the edit could’ve been structured that way, as discreet sections based on the age and progression of subjects. Maybe giving each person their own 10-15 minute short documentary could allow them to fill the time with what makes for the best short film, not what makes for the best balance for a larger piece.
Then again, I get the choice to play the three subject’s stories alongside each other. There’s a compare and contrast that naturally occurs, and you get a wider range of the Tourette’s community, and thus an opportunity to inform and educate those, who are ignorant of what Tourette’s can be, with more than a few different examples. I understand the choice, but I don’t know if the content warranted being handled in this way.
I guess what I mostly want is structure out of this piece, and it doesn’t present much. While it has moments of education, it mostly lets Natasha, Josh and Calvert’s lives do most of the teaching. As we see them, and hear parts of their life stories, we get a better understanding of Tourette’s. But it feels more like a presentation of footage than a cohesive piece at times. You can make a documentary this way, and it will be fine and may serve your purposes, but if you want to make a great documentary, there are more considerations.
As you can see, I’m of different minds about the film itself. I think the message and mission is important, and I respect and appreciate what the filmmakers are doing with this film. Unfortunately, I’m also here to review the film as a complete documentary film, and I have to talk about it in those ways too. The main problem with a film like this is that it does its job and serves its mission and message but because it isn’t a great documentary film in general, it’s likely to get stuck preaching to the choir than crossing over to the wider audience, which are the people who really need to be educated.
Then again, to the Tourette’s community, there is value here in seeing other people who have gone through the same things and, especially considering Josh and Calvert’s journeys, people can see how having Tourette’s is not something to stop you from living your life. To others living with Tourette’s, or living with those who have Tourette’s, this film is also valuable and important. It’s not just about educating the ignorant.
Therefore, this film serves multiple purposes, but I think it’s not as powerful, as a whole, to achieve all that it otherwise could achieve, given more structure, or even a different structure (such as multiple short doc “profiles,” for example). Also, forty minutes is a rough time for a short film; too long for most film festivals to program in a short film block, and too short to be considered a feature. So how do you get it out there? It’s not strong enough technically for TV (the audio could use a lot of mixing and cleaning), so is it self-distribution then? Okay, but outside the Tourette’s community, who is going to take a chance on it?
Reading this, you probably think I hate the film. I don’t, not by a long shot. I think the message needs to be out there. But I also want this to be the best documentary it can be, and I think that would serve the message the best too. As it currently stands, it’s informative and educational, and at times touching, but it’s not quite strong enough an overall film.
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