Vincent: “Suck my dick! Sorry, I didn’t mean it. Tourette’s. Cunt!”
This is an interaction from my film, “The Road Within,” starring Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz, Dev Patel, Robert Patrick and Kyra Sedgwick. It’s about Vincent, a young man with Tourette Syndrome who falls in love with Marie, an anorexic girl, they kidnap Alex, a young man with OCD, and the threesome go on the road to scatter Vincent’s mother’s ashes. It is a true dramedy – a film in which you’re supposed to laugh and cry.
For the most part, the film has done just that. I’ve been on the festival circuit for the past nine months and we have shown the film to sold out audiences all across the world. I’d say we’ve had about a 99% success rate of bringing the audiences along for the comedically emotional ride in the theaters – but less so when people watch it at home alone. (Which also helps explain why critics usually praise dramas and knock comedies because they’re watching them in a vacuum. That’s a whole other discussion but, needless to say, I don’t plan on reading any of the reviews.)
My theory about this is that comedy is funnier when you watch it in a group. Especially something that’s walking a delicate line. This isn’t a novel concept; comedy clubs exist for this very reason. A group setting gives audiences the freedom to laugh because other people are laughing. So when you’re in the movie theater and you think a potentially offensive scene is really funny but you’re not sure whether or not to laugh, you know that other audience members are thinking the same thing. It just takes one person’s laughter to open the floodgates. A communal roller coaster experience begins and everyone goes on the ride together. Or at least that’s what filmmakers hope will happen.
But what happens when someone in the theater finds something offensive and can’t get past it? I experienced this at a test screening. The scene in question went like this:
Vincent: “You don’t get to tell me what to do! I’m in charge here, not you, you cunt!”
Alex: “Are you calling me a cunt?”
Marie: “That was his Tourette’s, you idiot.”
Vincent: “No, I said that on purpose!”
Marie and Alex start to laugh.
Vincent: “What’s so funny?”
Alex: “It’s just hard to tell where you stop and your Tourette’s begins.”
Vincent is pissed for a few moments as they continue to laugh at him – but he slowly realizes that it is funny and he starts to laugh at himself as well.
Pretty funny, I think. And it’s a pivotal scene because it tells the audience that the characters have taken a turn. That they’ve realized it’s okay to laugh at themselves. And from there on out, they take the piss out of each other whenever possible – but they always do it with an underlying sense of love.
However, a 45-year-old man in the test audience that night was truly offended that Marie and Alex were laughing at Vincent. And he made up his mind right then and there that this movie was making fun of people with Tourette Syndrome. In the discussion afterwards, he ended up telling us he hated the film. Absolutely hated it. He tried getting on his soapbox and convincing the rest of the audience to join in his hatred, but nobody took the bait because they saw what I was trying to do and knew that I wasn’t making fun of anyone. (Although I did flip this guy off when he wasn’t looking. I got a big laugh from the rest of the audience because it’s funny to make fun of a dick.)
Now I’m not saying he’s a dick because he didn’t like my film. Art is subjective and everyone’s tastes are different. I’m saying he’s a dick because he refused to see that it’s okay to laugh at yourself. That everyone is ridiculous in some way, whether it’s on the inside or the outside. Ultimately that’s what comedy’s all about.
The Road Within is in select cinemas now. It is Gren Wells’ directorial debut and, based on the film, Variety chose her as one of their Top 10 Directors to Watch.