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Movie review: 'Wretches & Jabberers'

Two men challenge ideas about autism in Gerardine Wurzburg's documentary

April 15, 2011|By Glenn Whipp
  • Wurzburg's advocacy documentary, ''Wretches and Jabberers,'' gives a voice to those with autism. Larry Bissonnette, 53, of Milton, right, and Tracy Thresher, 43, of Barre Town, are seen in Montpelier, Vt. The two, who suffer from autism and don't speak, and the film follows them as they travel around the world.
Wurzburg's advocacy documentary, ''Wretches and Jabberers,''… (Toby Talbot / Associated…)

The title of Gerardine Wurzburg's autism documentary, "Wretches & Jabberers," comes from a remark made by Antti, a Finnish autistic man, who notes that the world can be divided into two camps based on the capacity — or inability — to speak freely and without effort.

"We poor wretches are better than jabberers," the 21-year-old Antti jokes. "They don't know it yet, but we will tell it to them …"

Wurzburg's advocacy documentary gives a voice to those with autism and takes up Antti's request to "dispel the darkness around us poor wretches. Take us for real people. Don't sideline us." Opening in a limited theatrical run, the film will undoubtedly have a long afterlife as an educational tool to challenge and perhaps change people's notions about autism.

The movie follows two autistic men — Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonette, 52 — as they leave their Vermont homes and embark, along with their tireless assistants, on a global tour to talk about their cause. As they hopscotch from Sri Lanka to Japan and then Finland, the two meet reporters, take in the local sights, reunite with old friends and make some new ones.

The road trip provides some spectacular images, but it's the two protagonists that hold the most interest. Their reactions are unpredictable; their insights, illuminating and often quite funny. And though the movie can be a bit meandering at times, Wurzberg deserves credit for keeping the focus on her subjects' humanity without being self-conscious about doing so.

"Mankind expresses itself finely in variety," observes Thresher, when asked why he believes autism exists. That variety is on display in "Wretches & Jabberers," and it's often a wonder to behold.


"Wretches & Jabberers." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At AMC Rolling Hills, Torrance.

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