Movie review: 'Wretches and Jabberers'

Autism activists, around the globe

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Tracy Thresher (left) and Larry Bissonnette in "Wretches & Jabberers."

Photo: Ralph Alswang Photography

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The documentary "Wretches and Jabberers" is a moving and eye-opening testament to the desire of autistic people to be a part of the world, not apart from it -- or at least to be understood.

Unable to communicate much by speaking, Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, both grew up in social isolation in different parts of Vermont. As adults, their worlds changed when they learned to type and were able to articulate their thoughts and feelings for the first time.

Thresher became an autism advocate, Bissonnette a painter who loves taking Polaroid portraits. The two became allies on an international mission to dispel myths about autism. Along the way, they met and forged bonds with other autistic people in Tokyo, Sri Lanka and Finland. With his laptop and an assistant to translate verbally, Thresher can now tell the world what it feels like "to be trapped in a body that doesn't work right and you can't let anyone know." Bissonnette overcomes his "low barefoot tolerance" so he can enter a Buddhist temple in Japan, where the two meet with monks.

Their excitement grows as they encounter more people with autism who know exactly how they feel, and share their determination to tell everyone else that they are "more like you than not."

Directed by Gerardine Wurzburg, who won an Oscar in 1992 for the short doc "Educating Peter," the film gets its title from a comment made by a young autistic Finnish man who jokingly divides the world into wretches (people like him who don't speak much) and jabberers -- or everyone else. Then he asks the "jabberers" to "take us for real people. Don't sideline us."

The soundtrack -- at times distracting, at times poignant -- features original music and a long list of notable collaborators, including Norah Jones, Scarlett Johansson and Stephen Stills, whose son Henry has autism. But the most moving moments are provided by two buddies so bent on changing attitudes, they can't help but do so everywhere they go.

  • WRETCHES AND JABBERERS

    ★★★ out of four stars

    When: Noon Sat.

    Where: AMC, Eden Prairie.

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