Tag Archives: Ableism

Front of the Class (2008)

There are undeniably touching moments in “Front of the Class,” but from the ‘Ah-Gee’ musical score to the sappy voice-over, the periods in between are more frustrating then inspiring.

The effectiveness are the story is very subjective- if you like Hallmark Hall of Fame television movies and unabashed tearjerkers, you will find a lot to love in this story of a young man living with Tourette’s Syndrome while struggling to achieve his dream of becoming a teacher.

If not… well, you may be a hard-hearted cynic like yours truly. Have you ever felt like a robot? Like you weren’t capable, or even deserving of, empathy? I watched this movie in a sparse classroom of four students (besides myself,) and by the end credits all four (and the teacher) were weeping and disheveled.

And me…? As for myself, the movie hadn’t squeezed a single tear out of me. But before I could snarl and say “Bah-Humbug,” the teacher turned on the lights and began raving about what an amazing film it was. What was I supposed to say? Could I say anything?

I guess the whole thing was a bit too calculated for my taste. Or maybe I just don’t have empathy for nice, clean-cut white Americans. Or Something. Nevertheless, the experience left me feeling confused and alienated.

At the age of six, Brad Cohen (played by Dominic Scott Kay as a child and James Wolk as an adult) starts to experience mysterious tics- grunts, yelps, and sounds that puzzle his teachers and his family. His classmates, on the other hand, laugh and poke fun at his strange behavior.

However, most heart-wrenching for Brad is the frustration and embarrassment of Brad’s father, Norman (Treat Williams.) Although Brad’s dad and teachers are convinced that he’s a toublemaker, Brad’s mom Ellen (Patricia Heaton) loves him and is determined to find the source of his problems, which lies in the fateful diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder which causes tics and twitches against the sufferer’s will.

After experiencing the support of a childhood principal (Mike Pniewski,) Brad grows up with a dream to teach… a dream he never lets go of, through crushing rejections and devastating failures. Will he succeed? If you don’t know the answer to this, apparently you’re not familiar with this type of movie.

Anyway, the stand-out performance here is Dominic Scott Kay as the young Brad Cohen, who wins our sympathy as good kid struggling with events outside his control. Patricia Heaton is also very good as his devoted mother, while James Wolk is decent (if a bit too overly earnest) as the grown Brad.

Although the portrayal of Tourette’s is realistic and may appeal to sufferers of the condition looking for support, the so-so script weighs the movie down in a way even the decent cast can’t make up for. The movie is just too sentimental for it’s own good. Which is a shame, because there are some good things on display here.

“Front of the Class” is the kind of movie that might be worth watching if it comes on Hallmark, but isn’t worth your time or money to buy or rent IMO. If you have Tourette’s it might offer more to you than it did to me. In that case, or if you like Hallmark tearjerkers, ignore this review and have a good cry on me. Otherwise, you may want to skip this one. Just sayin’.

The Hammer (2010)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no big fan of wrestling. I just can’t get pumped up at the prospect of two muscly, angry-looking, sweaty boys/men sticking their testicles in each others’ faces. So the human interest element of a wrestling story really has to involve me, or else the appeal is lost on me.

Well, “The Hammer” is no Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” but it still manages to be a pretty appealing ‘underdog’ story, sans “The Wrestler”‘s devastating ending. Now inspirational underdog pic can be great “Billy Elliot,” good “The Fighter,” or just mediocre (“Front of the Class,”) and “The Hammer” falls somewhere in the middle category.

Based on a true story, “The Hammer” follows Matt Hamill, a deaf athlete (played by Russell Harvard, who has the disability in real life,) who struggles throughout his youth for love, inclusion, and acceptance. As a child, Matt’s grandfather Stan (Raymond J. Barry) denied him the right to learn sign language or participate in a school with other deaf children.

So guess what? Matt gets moved to the ‘slow class’ of a mainstream primary school, where the normal kids¬† assume he’s stupid- he can’t hear, he can’t talk, he doesn’t respond to their taunts… until one day he does respond, knocking one of his victimizers to the ground after being bullied.

Matt grows into a strong, oxish youth who nevertheless remains tentative about social engagements. He also finds his calling in life… wrestling. When Matt fails at his wrestling scholarship, partially because of his inability to understand sign language (way to go, Gramps,) he must fight his fears and insecurities in order to achieve his dreams.

I’ll admit- I kind of spaced out during the wrestling scenes, which weren’t my forte. But despite the sentimentality, the tears, and the token inspirational moments, I was pleased with this film as a whole. It wasn’t really anything new or special, but it was well-done.

First of all Matt was a likable characters- you felt for his failures, even if you knew he was going to succeed at the end. The Grandpa was a three-dimensional character, even if his motivations were not always clear. He made up for his shortcomings by being an overall good father figure to his grandson.

Matt’s deaf girlfriend Kristi (also deaf actress Shoshannah Stern) was kind of blah… you couldn’t really feel the chemistry between her and Matt, and her constant nagging at him to sign rather than speak was annoying, and never really got resolved.

“The Hammer” is an overall rather predictable movie that ends up inspiring you despite yourself. The acting is decent, the script strong, and the characters likable enough. It might be worth a watch if you can find it for a cheap rental, or if you like this sort of movie.