Three young professional New Yorkers are best friends. Lyle is a painter of some renown (people stop him on the street to say they enjoy his work) who suffers from both Tourette's Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Callie is a fashion editor responsible for a new campaign featuring models posing as characters in horror fiction (a passing bus has an ad for "hunchback" featuring a beautiful woman with a hump). Mike is Callie's boyfriend, who is a doctor with a conscience. When Mike follows his heart to Burundi on behalf of Doctors Without Borders ("if doctors don't want to help people, why did they get into medicine in the first place?"), Callie is furious at his inability to move their relationship along ("I respect you more than anyone I know, but I can't live like this"), and cries on Lyle's shoulder.
Callie changes their joint answering machine to her sole voice. She arranges the furniture in their apartment to suit her needs. She offers her television to Lyle, but he response "have you ever seen someone with OCD use a remote control?". She then learns that she's pregnant. She tells Lyle who is excited and nervous for her and is unhappy when she schedules an appointment for an abortion. At first, she's mad at him for butting in, but then decides that she has the means and the desire to raise the child alone. By this time, the father of her child is off saving the world and is unreachable.
Lyle's Tourette's keeps him from any sort of social life. The more he hangs out with Callie, the greater his self-esteem becomes. He is a successful artist, well respected, attractive, but his disorders turn any date into a nightmare of splashed wine and loud outbursts. Callie begins posing for Lyle and he contorts her naked body in all sorts of positions until he finds inspiration. After such intimate moments, plus late night dinners and trips to the ob/gyn, the inevitable happens: Lyle falls in love with Callie, his best friend's girlfriend.
Probably the most amazing thing about this film is that plenty could have gone wrong or felt dishonest, but nothing did. Lyle doesn't have 'movie OCD', like Nicholson did in As Good As It Gets. He doesn't avoid cracks in the sidewalk or sort his M & M's by color. He taps things a few times or checks his sneaker tongues often, but it's not the showy stuff we've become accustomed to. By the same token, his Tourette's isn't the showy profanity or racist word yelling that we've seen onscreen since L.A. Law back in the 80s. He yells once in awhile and has muscle spasms that cause onlookers to stare and in one memorable scene he flicks paint into a model's eye. The subtlety of his afflictions were very impressive.
The relationships between two single people, who are attracted to each other but can't act on it because of another friend is done here in a very honest fashion. There are hundreds of films where the guy loves the girl who loves his best friend, but this one is done slowly and methodically. Lyle isn't setting out to woo Callie. He's falling for her in spite of himself. The guilt that goes along with having feelings for your friend's lover are usually not explored in film. This one does. Add to that the fact that without Mike's compassion and apparent inability to get embarrassed by Lyle's outbursts, Lyle never would have been brave enough to even talk with a woman like Callie. Mike brought Lyle out of his shell and in some ways probably helped him become the artist he is. How will he look his friend in the eye when he returns from his medical mission?
I'm also impressed with Morrow's direction. Usually when an actor directs himself, there's no doubt who's in charge. In this film Morrow gives neither excessive screen time, nor flattering closeups to himself. He is shown honestly, with all his ticks intact. The style of the film is very good as well. When Lyle is creating, the camera will cut to his hands and then show Morrow alone is a white room with only the canvas and his paints. It's as if for those few moments of creativity, he is tick free and as normal as everyone else. Lyle remarks that "the place could catch on fire, and I wouldn't know it." His models are strained and stiff because he loses track of time. It's very hard to show a painter's creativity and work style on film. La Belle Noiseuse in my opinion showed the actual creativity and hand movements of an artist best. This film doesn't highlight how he works as much. We know that he can shut the world out while he's painting or sculpting and this gives his life meaning.
A unique part of this story is that Dr. Mike drops off a new Tourette's drug with Lyle just before he leaves. Lyle is hesitant to try it because the last one he tried, messed him up a bit. Mike mentions the great strides that have been made in treatment. After Mike leaves, Lyle looks at the pills, but never takes them. His reasoning, and this is another place where this film is unique, is that he is simply not sure that he can create art while on medication. This is something that rarely comes up. Many extremely creative people are also troubled. There is the belief, which is valid in many cases, that if you cure the disorder in the artist, you will stop the art. Comedians are often covering for pain. Without pain, no humor. Sculptors and painters need a little obsessiveness, or the work won't be produced. Lyle's fear is that although he'd be a more well-adjusted person, his days as an artist would be over. I was most impressed by this idea.
This film isn't perfect, to be sure. It is a bit predicable. After all, once you hang out with someone as charming and intelligent as Laura Linney, and pose her naked body, how could any guy, much less a socially inept one not fall in love with her. As Linney goes through the different phases of pregnancy, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but somehow it seems fresh with these actors. I have big problems with everything that happens after the postscript title card "One Year Later..." And in all honesty, not much happens in this picture. But it has stayed with me and I am now completely convinced that Linney is an extra-special actress. Don't miss this one.
Lyle Maze.....Rob Morrow [(The best television dramedy of all time) Northern Exposure, Quiz Show, Mother]
Callie.....Laura Linney [Lorenzo's Oil, Dave, Searching For Bobby Fisher, Tales Of The City, Primal Fear, Absolute Power, The Truman Show, You Can Count On Me]
Mike.....Craig Sheffer [Some Kind Of Wonderful, A River Runs Through It, Demolition Man, Sleep With Me, Miss Evers' Boys, Bliss]
Lyle's Mother.....Rose Gregorio [Carol's mom on E.R., The Swimmer, City Of Hope]
Lyle's Father.....Robert Hogan
Julianne.....Gia Carides [The Coca-Cola Kid, Strictly Ballroom, Primary Colors]
Cinematography by Wolfgang Held [Ripe]
Written by Rob Morrow and Bradley White [The Night We Never Met, The Object Of My Affection]
Directed by Rob Morrow
Shown as part of the 2001 Cinequest San Jose Film Festival
This Was Written On March 9, 2001
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copyright © 2001 Michael Warner Cummins
Most recent update: 3/9/01
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