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[whitespace] Niagara Niagara
Lowell Handler

Lashing Out: Marcy (Robin Tunney) is angry at the world.

Tourette's syndrome girl meets shy boy on the road to Toronto

By Richard von Busack

SEEING MARLEE MATLIN on the "Where are they now?" benches at the Oscars reminded me of a rumor I'd heard that deaf women were subjected to a lot of unwelcome passes after Children of a Lesser God came out. Fortunately, the appeal of the new film Niagara Niagara is so limited that female sufferers of Tourette's syndrome shouldn't worry about being pestered. Bob Gosse's boutique film is a little story about a pair of society's rejects on a trip from upstate New York to Toronto. Seth (Henry Thomas of E.T.) and Marcy (Robin Tunney) meet cute, bumping into each other as both are shoplifting. He's the post-teenage son of a griping old man who bops him on the nose for a greeting; she's a rich sociopath with Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes her to swear, tic and lash out without warning.

Marcy wants a plastic hairstyling doll the local stores don't carry, so she proposes a journey to Toronto to find one. Predictably, this joyride brings the pair into violent conflict with society: society that won't refill Marcy's prescriptions so she gets crazier and crazier; society that won't sell her booze because she's underage; society that wants to put her in jail just because she was trying to rob a drugstore. Society, in short, that pretty much calls her as it sees her: a head case who ought to be put away before she hurts someone. Maybe that isn't the most compassionate way of looking at our heroine, but Niagara Niagara strains compassion something fierce.

How did screenwriter Matthew Weiss miss the obvious trick? Tourette's can result from brain trauma--why wasn't Marcy's condition the result of a beating, so her opposition to the world would have some justification? To try to make Marcy pitiful instead of dangerous, director Bob Gosse gives the fleeing couple plenty of ugly middle-aged meanies to rub up against. Except for a cameo with Candy Clark as a nice bartender, the kindest of these is Walter (Michael Parks), a derelict chicken farmer. Even Walter has sinister qualities; he talks to his chickens in a paranoid-sounding mumble. Parks is in midcomeback; he began his career years ago as a sort of Peter Fonda surrogate on the TV show Then Came Bronson and returned with a Tarantino monologue in the opening scenes of From Dusk Till Dawn. Parks takes over his part quietly and fluidly.

Thomas and Tunney can't equal Parks. Finally, both just pose against the soundtrack, which is full of open-chord guitar and breathy, hurt little voices: shoegazer music. The ending is obvious. Marcy is thwarted (but of course!) in her search to get her inaccessible doll. No one will let her have her toy, so she goes on a rampage. This is a crybaby's story.

Niagara Niagara (R; 94 minutes), directed by Bob Gosse, written by Matthew Weiss, photographed by Michael Spiller, starring Henry Thomas and Robin Tunney.

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From the April 9-15, 1998 issue of Metro.

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