Temple Grandin - 31st August 2010

You can imagine the scene I am sure, I am in the kitchen washing up a few glasses and my wife is making herself comfy on the sofa. We have decided to check out what films are on-demand and as I am not really in the mood for any one thing in particular, I don't really mind what she picks, I just think I know what I don't want to watch.
As I am finishing the chore, I see my wife is flicking through the HBO movie section and by reading the titles from where I am standing I can see that there's nothing there I particularly care for.
By the time I have finished the washing up and I am heading through to the living room I see what I think looks like a tedious, rural, set on a farm, 'real' Americans type movie. I sort of stick films like The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer and Legends of the Fall into this category, you know, anything where the predominate colour is yellow and I am sorry but, for me, they are a one-way ticket to sleepy-town. There's only so many over-the-top, deep southern accents done by Californian of New York actors that a man can take before he wants to carve his own ears out. It didn't take me 2 seconds to see how wrong I was by the way Claire Danes was acting and I asked my wife if her character had autism. 
I pick up bits of information and news from a hundred different internet searches or articles that I may read or skim in a day. Invariably I'll briefly notice an advert on a site containing an article completely unrelated to said advert, you know something about the latest Bruce Campbell vs. the Pinocchio Demon comic book or something, and later that week someone will say something or ask a question and I'll be able to say "Oh yes that's the one starring Josh Hartnett, about the deaf and dumb man who sailed to China on a milk crate, based on a true story, set in the 50s I think, comes out Friday". That's where advertising works, where it fails however is that I will never ever go see that movie for all the spanners in Norfolk, doesn't matter how many shots of Judy Dench looking stern they use. 
Anyway, I digress, the point I was making was that just from the way Claire Danes was acting and the way the scene was shot, I knew the character she portrayed had autism and from knowing that bit of information I made the leap to assume that this was the made for TV movie about the autistic woman that picked up all those Emmys yesterday. The one with the funny name who went on to be a world authority on autism. I know this, not because I watched the Emmy's, read educational articles in magazine or care particularly about special need children but because I happened to see a picture next to a headline: 'Mystery star at Emmy's explained' as I went to log in to yahoo mail. I glanced at the article and remembered one word from it: autism and the information that a TV movie had been made about her. 'I'll never watch that', I thought to myself, 'it sounds about as cheery and as interesting as an afternoon spent in a sales management seminar on an industrial estate outside Luton' and I've already done that once in my life (that's hours of my precious time I'll never get back).
So as I sat down next to my wife to struggle through this, no doubt, depressing tale of trials in the face of adversity and hammy nasal acting, I really didn't know how much I could take. 
When a film bares the 'made for tv' AND the 'bio-pic' tag it usually means some overly sentimentalised and over simplified heap of owl crap, starring actors who once spent one season on LA Law and with all the production values of a bus-station cafe's all-day breakfast. As if that wasn't bad enough then you add a physically fit actor doing a 'disability' and I am about ready to start screaming 'get me out of here!' like a claustrophobic escapologist. 
Well, I think it was Socrates who once said, the mark of an intelligent man is to realise you know nothing and I, folks, know absolutely nothing.
Instead of becoming restless or disinterested, quite the opposite happened and the pacing, the acting and the directing carried me along making me feel happy in some moments, sad in others and even intrigued by it all at once. 
Yes of course it was the usual 'true' story about a person with a problem who overcomes that problem by using it to her advantage and yes it was a whole life condensed into 100 minutes and therefor some of it felt too easy but it was done with such charm, occasional fun and great performances that you just went along for the ride, letting it emotionally effect you and engage you.
Yes, ok so its simplification lead to the usual cliched scenes where, despite her awkwardness, fixation on detail, lack of social skills, weird loud voice and slightly jarring appearance there was always someone in the crowd who understood her straight away and gave her the opportunity time and time again to succeed and, yes, of course there were also the ones who didn't understand and bullied her but these scenes didn't come off as  too horrible and Danes was so mesmerising in her performance, surrounded by a great supporting cast that you didn't mind being some what emotionally manipulated at times.
The second best thing after the performances was the direction. They came up with this great little technique of using clips of fantasy, flash-back and still photographs to establish what was in Temple's head the whole time. This was a neat gimmick to pull out and use every time she had a Eureka! moment but it also helped to inject some humour, some art and some unusual and striking images into the film.
I would say that you have, if you've watched day time TV, seen this sort of plot before, I know for a fact Bruce Campbell is in a story about a blind man who climbed Everest, and I would certainly say that you have to be in the sort of mood where you're not really in the mood for anything to fully enjoy it (because it'll surprise you pleasantly) but thankfully due to the lack of horrendous Forrest Gump 'you-can-do-it' moments and because the cast and director are not just clearly passionate about telling the story but all in fine form, this film was genuinely heartwarming, thought provoking, exciting and funny without ever getting pretentious or so over the top it was unbelievable.
One point though, who names their kid Temple? and who teases a kid for being autistic when you could tease them about being called Temple?

7 out of 10 rotisserie chickens
Points from The Misses 8 out of 10 rotisserie chickens

George A Romero's Survival of the Dead - 2nd September 2010

Double Impact - 28th August 2010