The tendency on the part of most films to marginalize the severely disabled in order to make a (hopefully) socially conscious point is so common that most audiences take it for granted (and Tropic Thunder lampooned this tendency wickedly). So, sadly, it’s somewhat of a relief that Wretches & Jabberers even occasionally treats its subjects—Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, two middle-aged autistic friends who travel together around the world as advocates to raise awareness of the communication potentials of the severely autistic—as human beings who exist as more than instruments of reform against archaic beliefs and prejudices.
There’s one authentically beautiful scene in the film: Larry, having recently returned from a trip to India, fixes a breakfast of coffee and pancakes for his sister and himself, while the music—which is, otherwise, largely intrusive and condescending—gently underlines the moment. It’s a vignette that the movies were made for, as we come to casually grasp the sadness and isolation of a man whose experiences might otherwise baffle us—a moment that’s progressive and tolerant precisely because it isn’t so consciously progressive and tolerant. We’re briefly brought into Larry’s world without the sort of good-intentioned self-consciousness that can cause us to see disabled people as some sort of mythical—or simple, or dangerous, depending upon your brand of simplification—Other.
Wretches & Jabberers is never quite distasteful, but it is often deadly dull, and it could use more scenes like that one. There are a few other touching moments (the somewhat irrational texts that Tracy and Larry write as communications have a haunting lyrical quality), but the film keeps us mostly stuck in various meetings that, despite the variety of people and locales, essentially boil down to the same conversation: that the autistic want to be seen as intelligent and productive humans and not as vegetables or instruments of pity. That sentiment is poignant and nearly inarguable, but you want to tell the filmmakers to get on with it, and to more eloquently detail the rest of Tracy and Larry’s story beyond their occupation, which includes Tracy’s involvement with multiple state disability committees as well as Larry’s prolific pace as a painter. Wretches & Jabberers is literal and inexpressive; it’s a recruiting video, not cinema.