This Film Will Change The Way You View Tourette Syndrome

Photo: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.
Since the '90s, the entertainment industry has had something of a field day with Tourette syndrome, or Tourette’s, a disorder of the nervous system that causes people to make uncontrollable, repetitive movements or unintended sounds. Many portrayals of Tourette's in movies and on TV have skewed viewers' understanding of what is a relatively common disorder. Hopefully, that's all about to change, thanks to a new indie film called The Road Within.

While it approaches its subject matter seriously, the movie has a comedic undertone that breaks the tension on a difficult topic. "I didn’t want to make a two hour drama about Tourette’s, nor would I want to watch it," director Gren Wells told us this week. "It's laughter that allows the audience to breathe!"

To learn more, we sat down with Wells and one of the actors who stars in her film to talk about the movie's message, common misconceptions about Tourette's, and how they hope to change the conversation with their film, which opens today in select theaters.

But first, a little primer on the plot. Irish actor Robert Sheehan plays a teen with Tourette’s, who finds himself at a center for psychological disorders when his mother dies and his father (played by Robert Patrick) simply doesn’t know how to deal him. There, he meets two other outsiders: roommate Alex (Dev Patel), who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, and soon-to-be love interest Marie (Zoë Kravtiz), who is being treated for anorexia.
Photo: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.
This first question is for Gren. Zoë Kravitz recently said that playing this character reawakened her previous battles with an eating disorder. Did you know about that before casting her? 
Gren Wells:
"We had talked about it. In Hollywood, most of the actresses I was meeting with have battled it, as have I. It was really hard to find someone who hadn't dealt with anything with eating. But, I was looking for an inner strength in someone I knew could handle going through that again. And, I was also watching out like a mama bear just to make sure she didn't fall down that rabbit hole again. I'm the one who told her to stop losing weight at one point. I said, 'You're there.' But, she didn't believe me, because she was already in it.

"One day, we let her go do press for Divergent, and I told her ahead of time, 'People are going to compliment you on how you look. You need to know this going in, but you do not look good. You look sick.' She said, 'I don't think anyone's going to say anything.' She came back and said, 'You were totally right.' So many people came up to her and said, ‘You're so skinny,’ ‘What are you doing,’ ‘You look fantastic.’ For me, the most compliments I ever got was when I was 80 pounds. That's when you also realize that that's someone else's issue. That's not yours. So, anyways, she's doing great. It actually helped her really get through it fully. She realized after losing all that weight and then putting it back on, that she is more powerful than the disease."

Photo: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.
A project like this has the power to change the perception of many psychological disorders. How did being part of it change your own outlook?
Robert Sheehan: "A lot of what changed my perspective was Jackson Kramer, a guy with Tourette's who took us through his adolescence [to prepare for the role]. We got to relive his most painful years with Tourette's. Through him, I realized the anguish and pain that can happen."

G.W.: "For me it was the same sort of thing — learning about the torment...talking to kids with these issues really hit home, because they're ostracized and made fun of. It sucks that we're rated R, because [it's] that very audience that needs to be seeing this film to create more compassion and understanding for people with disabilities. I'm actually challenging parents to go see the film, and if they think their kid is mature enough, to bring them back and watch it with them. So what if there's some cursing? And, a brief love scene where you see Zoë's boobs. What teenager hasn't seen boobs?"

What are the biggest misconceptions about Tourette's?
G.W.: "The biggest one is cursing. Tourette’s is only physical and guttural ticks; coprolalia is where people curse and use inappropriate words or sayings."

R.S.: "There's also a subcategory called echolalia, which is something, again that you can exclusively have without having Tourette’s, and vice versa. Echolalia is essentially just echoing things. Usually, if someone has one, they have the other. But, there are subsections."
Photo: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
"For me, it’s opening up the discussion on mental health, and destigmatizing it. Physical pain doesn’t have a stigma, so why should mental?"

R.S.: "Live your life with a level of bravery. Scare yourself. Push your self into uncomfortable situations. Because at the very least, you get an anecdote out of it."

The Road Within opens today in select theaters. 

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