Reach Me

A badly written, low budget picture, Reach Me nevertheless features a few short cameos by former Hollywood heavy-hitters, and a few stereotypes and misconceptions about people with disabilities.

A book of inspirational platitudes by an anonymous author has “gone viral” in this picture, shaking up the lives of those who read it and spurring all sorts of rumors about the writer. One journalist hears that the mysterious author has cured a lady with a cleft lip (referred to using the slang term “harelip”) of her accompanying stutter, and decides to investigate. He discovers her in the middle of being harassed for her tiny, barely noticeable cleft lip by a crowd of young black men. She introduces him to the reclusive author, who demonstrates his methods on the journalist to cure him of smoking; they turn out to be little more than making him walk out into the ocean and shouting at him, drill-sergeant style.

The “berating as cure” method of treating a speech impediment–especially one with possible roots in physical difference–has been thoroughly discredited long ago.

Another person publicly claims to have overcome his disability after reading said book; a young man with Tourette’s Syndrome appears on a TV talk show, waving the paperback around and blurting out compliments to the attractive hostess. The writers of the screenplay probably thought Tourette’s was solely about blurting out curses, when in reality it’s primarily a movement disorder; few adults with it have involuntary vocal sounds, and even fewer of them manifest uncontrollable cursing.

And finally, the “r-word” is used inappropriately, several times to criticize a wide-eyed man who shows no sign of actual intellectual disability, and also to make a joke about the sound of Professor Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer. Somebody really didn’t get the memo about Stephen Hawking, did they?

The Switch

Though disabled characters make but a brief appearance in The Switch, the principal character Wally nevertheless manages to pass on his negative stereotypes about people with mental illness to the next generation. At the beginning of the movie, Wally is waiting for the light to change on a New York City street when a nearby man with some form of neurological illness begins repetitively muttering a commentary on the people surrounding him. A lady with a limp is referred to as “Pig-faced, gimpy, limping mama”; when Wally looks askance at the man, he mutters “Beady-eyed little man boy”.

He's not hurting anybody, but a mentally ill man's utterances are making Wally insecure.

Perhaps the man has come uncomfortably close to the truth, because Wally whines about such treatment to his best friend Kassie and opines that the man probably had Tourette Syndrome. Wally’s uninformed diagnosis is probably wrong, as Tourette Syndrome is characterized more by physical (motor) tics such as eye blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffling, and facial movements. Vocal or phonic tics are rare in adults affected by Tourette’s. But the most telling characteristic that distinguishes the man on the sidewalk as affected by some other form of mental or neurological illness that causes coprolalia is his seeming lack of self-awareness about it. A person who truly had Tourette’s would likely be trying to control his tics by distracting himself, or consciously adding “Sorry, I have Tourette’s” by way of explanation.

Wally soon gets embroiled in Kassie’s quest to have a child via sperm donor before moving away for several years. When she returns with Sebastian, a child who reminds Wally of the neurotic wimpy youngster he was at that age, Wally (perhaps remembering his fear of the man on the sidewalk) advises him to stand up to a bully by “acting crazy” so that people will be afraid of him. It doesn’t work, and Sebastian is beaten up by a bigger boy.

Harvie Krumpet

 The odd biography of a man who has Tourette’s Syndrome and chronic bad luck.  After a childhood tragedy, Harvie Krumpet emigrates to Australia where he has a succession of menial jobs and misadventures, leaving him with a steel plate in his skull that becomes a magnet.