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Different Is The New Normal - Movie Review - 2011

Healing Oneself by Helping Others

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


Ariel Small, a teenager who grew up in suburban Chicago, was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was a young child. The unusual behavior associated with his disease, including involuntary tics and outbursts of temper, isolated him from his friends and make it difficult for him to get along in school. With the help of his loving mother and father, who financed this film, Ariel has been able to lead a normal -- and in some ways extrarodinary -- life.

Documenting a Disease

As a film, Different Is The New Normal has a mission, and that mission is to show that Ariel Small, the kid with Tourette syndrome, can not only lead a normal life himself, he can show others who are similarly afflicted how to do the same.

Using archival footage and family photographs, filmmakers John Block and Matt Wechsler chronicle the progression of Ariel's Tourette syndrome symptoms from his early childhood, through his learning how to manage his disease, and his hiding his uncontrollable gaffs by playing the class clown, to his being elected president of his high school class, and his experiencing a hugely disappointing series of events that made him rethink his goals and his relationship to his disorder.

Ariel is an interesting and appealing young man who easily gains the compassion of those around him, and of those who see this documentary. The film, which was funded by Ariel's parents, is a tribute to a young man who has already accomplished a lot and has a promising future. While telling Ariel's story, the film presents statistics about Tourette syndrome -- more than 200,000 Americans have the disorder, which manifests itself in a wide variety of behavioral patterns with varying degrees of intensity -- that are intended to inform the public about the disorder. More background about Tourette syndrome and Ariel's condition is delivered as voice over narration by television news anchor Edie Magnus, whose overly cheerful readings are actually quite distracting. Still, the film does introduce a lot of information and change perceptions about Tourette syndrome.

Moving Moments

In a way, this documetary, produced by the parents of the lead subject, borders on seeming annoyingly self-promotional. Ariel reveals that he has political aspirations and you can't help but wonder what part this film might play in his eventual campaign. That said, it does offer information and insights about a disorder that afflicts large numbers of people but is little understood by the masses. That's certainly worthwhile.

In what is titled his 'video diary,' Ariel reveals deeply personal thoughts about his experiences, frustrations, self doubts and aspirations. These are some of the film's most moving sequences, showing how determined Ariel is to be treated normally, to set normal goals for himself and achieve them.

Ariel volunteers to become a youth ambassador for the Tourette Association and, in that capacity, meets with people -- especially kids -- nationwide to inform them about Tourette syndrome and to mentor kids who have the disorder.

Ariel also has a very moving on camera conversation with American Idol finalist, James Durbin, who has, like Ariel, managed to overcome the stigma of Tourette syndrome and serve as an example that Different Is The New Normal.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Different Is The New Normal
  • Filmmakers: John Block and Matt Wechsler
  • Premiere: September 15, 2011 (on WNET)
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: USA
  • Locations: USA
  • Language: English
  • Company: WNET Creative News Group

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