Docurama // 2007 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 8th, 2008
Prepare to be inspired.
From HBO Documentary Films, an unflinching look at the world of autism.
Elaine Hall knows what it's like to raise a child with autism. She adopted a young boy named Neal, who was challenged with the neurological disorder and proved to be a true test of her love. Hall decided to pursue a career where she could share her experiences and work with children with special needs.
Hence the Miracle Project, an initiative designed to introduce children with autism to a unique, creative experience. The goal: to write, produce and perform a musical performance. Along the way, we'll learn about a select group of the kids and the struggles they, their parents and their families face on a daily basis.
As an employee of a non-profit agency that serves people with disabilities, this disc immediately grabbed my attention. Autism has become shockingly pervasive, with one in 150 children developing a disorder on the autism spectrum. As the disease blooms, so too has the publicity and the theories on what causes the disability. As omnipresent as autism is, much remains unknown about it.
Films like Autism: The Musical will help shed light on autism and its effects on everyone the disorder touches. Less about the actual musical production and more about the people affiliated with it, the documentary offers a stark and brutally honest perspective from the people affected most by autism. Director Tricia Regan catches many authentic moments from the people in front of her lens, and that includes parents, teachers and the kids themselves. Nothing is sugar-coated, and the tribulations are given as much exposure as the joy (and there is joy, for there is much love to be found in the film).
Seriously, some of this stuff is brutal. Families disintegrate before us, parents melt down, children utter heartbreaking comments (Wyatt's account of the school bullies will make you want suit up immediately as a costumed grade school vigilante). Much home video footage is used of the kids when they were young and you can hear the despair in the parent's voices, caught on tape. It's tough, but autism is tough, requiring a daily summoning of strength.
Parallel to these gut-wrenching stories is the preparation for the musical. Like I said, the anecdotes take a more prominent role in the film, but watching the Miracle Project in action is indeed inspiring, though I wasn't entirely sure of the practical benefits of the program. I'm sure there were some, but not much attention was paid to the clinical payload of the project. The finished production was great and all, but how did the Miracle Project impact the kids and families long-term? I would have liked to see those specifics.
And here's one more nit to pick: the kids and their families obviously hail from affluence. Elaine's house looks like it could be a million-plus estate. I'm not saying that these wealthy West Coast folks don't endure the same challenges as other families grappling with autism, but at least the money is there to seek out resources that may not be as accessible to others. Again, it's a small thing, but there are families out there with nothing and seeing this cross-section would likely have offered another dimension to the subject matter.
But small potatoes those complaints. Autism: The Musical is about as effective as documentaries come. Highly recommended.
The full frame and 2.0 stereo mix is merely functional, though the 35 minutes of deleted scenes offers lots more footage (and additional stories of kids with autism). Some information on the director and Autism Speaks round out the disc.
Yeah, you'll be inspired, but the teeth of Autism: The Musical is the real, uncensored humanity.
Not guilty. Sing it sister!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Autism Information
* Director's Bio