There are many people-- too many, in fact,-- who live their entire lives on the `outside looking in,' to one degree or another, because the `normal' ones among us-- the ones who govern the great majority, or even the ones who just have a hand in formulating the criteria by which the parameters of our great `Society' are established-- deem it to be so, and have the wherewithal to effect their ends. Indeed, there are those who probably prefer an `outsider' status, rather than succumbing to the tenets of what is essentially the wide spread hypocrisy so prevalent throughout our world today. But it would be nice to at least give them that choice, which unfortunately, despite all the `politically correct' posturing that goes on and on around us daily, we do not. Yet, ironically, often it is these denizens from beyond the mainstream that so enrich our lives with their thoughts, art, and by their mere presence amongst us. `Maze,' written, directed by and starring Rob Morrow, is the story of one of these: An artist, whom we discover early on is also a very caring person, who is nevertheless relegated to that outer rim because he suffers from Tourette's Syndrome. He's different; he doesn't fit in; he's an embarrassment. He's also a very accomplished artist who puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. And-- like the rest of us-- he has very basic wants and needs, all the things that give definition to what he really is: Human. Just like the rest of us.
Lyle Maze (Morrow) is an established artist on the verge of a critical and financial breakthrough, but he lives a solitary existence, spending most of his time holed up in his loft, alone. He has one good friend, Mike (Craig Sheffer), but stays to himself, attempting to avoid the ridicule and embarrassment, or just the unwanted attention elicited by the uncontrollable `tics' generated by the Tourettes. Mike is a doctor and prescribes medication that may help, but Lyle fears it may stifle his creativity, as well, so he refuses to take it. it affects his work though, too, as his sudden outbursts are too disconcerting for even those with whom he must work, as when a model he has hired to pose for him walks out, unnerved by his seemingly erratic behavior.
Then Mike makes a decision that ultimately becomes the catalyst for what becomes a significant emotional event in Lyle's life. Mike, following an altruistic bent, signs on with a medical group and commits himself to months of work in a third world country. It's an admirable pursuit, but to follow this particular dream, he must leave behind the woman he loves, Callie (Laura Linney). And though Mike doesn't realize it, it is a very fragile time for Callie, and for their relationship. As Mike prepares to leave, Callie, aware of Lyle's predicament with models, volunteers to pose for him. Things become complicated, however, when Lyle suddenly begins to realize that he has feelings for Callie-- feelings he should not have in light of the fact that Mike is his best (only) friend. Lyle is conscientious and sensitive to the issue, but as is always the case in matters of the heart, all bets are off. And so, to his problems with Tourettes, Lyle must now add the inner conflict and guilt born of his (as yet unexpressed) feelings for Callie, as he seeks to resolve yet another of the curves that life seems determined to throw at him.
This movie marks the feature film debut of Morrow as a writer (along with Bradley White)/director, and it's one of those little gems that it's so gratifying to discover after sifting through all of the `fools gold' that Hollywood continues to pollute the stream with. Morrow successfully taps into that vein of need that runs through the human condition, places it in a proper setting, measures the finger of his audience and sizes it accordingly. And like a hand crafted item made with precision and an eye for detail, the result is a small, but invaluable treasure. Morrow (probably best known for his work in the TV series `Northern Exposure') has an acute grasp of human nature, and his insights provide the basis for a thought provoking, emotionally involving sojourn through the landscape of the human condition. Indeed, it is the humanity he finds in his characters that makes this film sing. It is a sensitive presentation devoid of any overt sentimentality that would have rendered it maudlin; with a seemingly innate sense of the emotional boundaries within which he must stay to be effective, Morrow keeps his finger on the pulse of the story, makes the necessary adjustments and keeps the heartbeat steady. And it works.
As Lyle, Morrow gives an extremely affecting performance; his `tics' are done to perfection, to the point of an irritating realism that so effectively gives you that sense of what it must be like to suffer such a malady, as well as offering some real insight into how it affects those who encounter someone with Tourettes, and how difficult it can be to respond appropriately. Morrow's portrayal generates understanding and sympathy for the sufferer, while at the same time offers some vindication to those who simply cannot cope with it. As a filmmaker, Morrow is to be complimented for offering up such a sensitive subject for the consideration of his audience, doing it objectively and without passing judgment on their response.
Laura Linney is terrific, too, as Callie, giving a performance that evokes the empathy of the viewer with her portrayal of a woman at an emotional crossroads in her life, who though beset with inner conflict finds the strength to overcome her troubles and decide for herself the direction her life will take. It's the kind of memorable performance which, along with Morrow's, makes `Maze' an entertaining and satisfying cinematic experience. It's the magic of the movies. 8/10.
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