Front of the Class

Produced By:  Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            When I saw the previews for the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Front of the Class, I wasn’t sure what to think.  The initial previews were basically about a young man willing to fight for a teaching position, despite the odds against him.  Those initial previews only alluded to some sort of insurmountable odds, but never really explained what those odds might be.  I was figuring that this was another school teacher makes a breakthrough with some tough luck inner-city school kids movie like Stand and Deliver and
Dangerous Minds.  I’d seen quite a few of these films and, although they were all very well done, I really had no desire to forgo watching my favorite Christmas films for a movie whose premise I had seen before.  But then I saw a more lengthy preview and knew I just had to watch Front of the Class on Sunday, December 7, 2008.

            Front of the Class is based on the autobiography of the same name written by Brad Cohen.  The movie follows Brad as he attempts to achieve his goal of becoming a teacher despite what many would consider to be impossible odds – his battle with Tourette’s Syndrome

            Growing up, Brad was always ridiculed for the constant barrage of noises he would make.  Teachers were exasperated at the constant disruptions in the classroom, labeling Brad a trouble maker and class clown.  No one would believe Brad when he told them that the noises and tics were uncontrollable.  Doctors diagnosed him with any number of psychological disorders from hyperactivity to anger issues stemming from his parents’ divorce.

            Only one person believed in Brad enough to see that there was something more going on than what was perceived by the doctors, teachers and fellow classmates.  At her wits end and fed up with receiving answers that never quite fit the situation, Brad’s mother began to do her own research about her son’s tics and discovered that her son was not incorrigible, but was actually suffering from a neurological disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome.  Because instances of Tourette’s Syndrome were rare, Brad’s doctors misdiagnosed his condition.  On the one hand, knowing that her son had an actual disorder was vindicating – Brad was telling the truth when he said that he couldn’t control his behavior.  On the other hand, there was no cure for Tourette’s Syndrome.

            Even as a child, Brad Cohen was determined not to let Tourette’s Syndrome beat him, fighting hard to overcome his disability and eventually graduating college with a degree in education.  But could he gain enough acceptance to earn him a chance to become the teacher he never had?

            Before seeing this movie, I had heard of Tourette’s Syndrome and I had seen its effects on those who suffer from it.  The tics can range from mild to terribly debilitating.  Brad Cohen’s tics were not debilitating, but they were pronounced enough to give me cause to wonder just how he not only pulled off becoming a teacher, but was a gifted enough teacher to gain recognition for his work (he was named the outstanding first year teacher in the state of Georgia at the end of his first year of professional teaching).  The previews on radio and television convinced me to watch this movie and I’m certainly glad I did.

            While most previews toted Patricia Heaton as the big-name star of the film, the most amazing performance in the movie was that of Jimmy Wolk who portrayed the adult Brad Cohen.  Before Front of the Class, Jimmy Wolk was not a “big name actor,” but after this film, I predict that Jimmy will be getting quite a few calls from producers looking for a great looking incredible performer suitable for a dramatic role.  Wolk went to great lengths to learn his role, going as far as to meet and keep contact with Brad Cohen so he could adequately represent this inspiring man.  Dominic Scott Kay does an excellent job of portraying young Brad Cohen and deserves tremendous credit for his performance.

            Patricia Heaton is Ellen Cohen, Brad’s mother and number one cheerleader.  Treat Williams appears as Brad Cohen’s father, a man who has trouble accepting that Brad is disabled and even more trouble accepting that Brad can do almost anything he sets his mind to do.  Sarah Drew appears as Nancy Lazarus, the love of Brad Cohen’s life.

             Front of the Class is an incredibly uplifting story which greatly supports the idea that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.  This true story about a man who overcame Tourette’s Syndrome to become an award-winning teacher is truly inspiring.  The film is positive and upbeat even when dealing with some of the most painful experiences in Brad Cohen’s life.  I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be touched by watching this film.  Keep a box of tissues handy though – there are some moments that are deeply touching and require a tissue or two. 

            If you missed Front of the Class the first time, make certain you check it out when it comes to DVD.  This is one uplifting and inspiring tale you will not want to miss!

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