Bride of the Fest That Ate South Florida

Despite its monstrous bulk, our favorite film festival stays true to its independent roots

Lyle, you see, suffers from Tourette's syndrome, the mysterious neurological ailment that manifests itself in a variety of compulsive tics and twitches. He isn't subject to the outbursts of swearing often associated with Tourette's -- he went through that phase in his childhood -- but his clicks and pops and convulsive jerks are almost ever-present. (They seem to subside slightly before he goes to sleep, and all but the worst of them go into remission when he's deep in concentration on a painting or sculpture.)

This alone is mighty powerful material for a movie, and Morrow makes full use of his opportunity to portray how relentlessly such an extreme disorder can dominate someone's life. Lyle's few friends are used to his behavior, but when he ventures from his bohemian loft into the outside world, you quickly realize the horror of his situation.

The syndrome makes even the most basic activity, whether it's having a beer at a bar or attempting a dinner date, an ordeal. "I just think social interaction as a whole is overrated," insists Lyle, whose condition has forced him to put up barricades against intimacy.

George Best (John Lynch) was as good with the ladies as he was with a soccer ball
George Best (John Lynch) was as good with the ladies as he was with a soccer ball

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And so Morrow ups the ante by having Lyle get emotionally involved with his close friend Callie (Laura Linney, in a lovely, delicate performance), who's also the girlfriend of Lyle's best friend, Mike (Craig Sheffer, in a thankless role). The complications generated among these relationships make up the bulk of the story, with the Tourette's and its complications never far in the background.

There's a twist ending that's poetically just but also feels a bit forced. Otherwise, Maze is never less than mesmerizing. (Tuesday, November 7, 1:15 and 7:15 p.m., Galleria, Fort Lauderdale; Friday, November 10, 5 p.m., Galleria; 98 minutes)

Swimming
In its finer moments, this slight drama recalls Ruby in Paradise, which played at the festival several years ago. Like that sleeper it's set in a small Southern coastal community and focuses on young characters who are unsatisfied with their lives but not quite sure what to do about it.

Unlike Ruby, however, which was built around Ashley Judd's extraordinary performance, Swimming emphasizes the unstable relationships among three women who work in the same restaurant. Think Mystic Pizza and you'll be on the right track.

The story is filtered through the perceptions of Frankie (Lauren Ambrose), a frumpy redhead who emphasizes her ugly-duckling status by wearing unflattering clothes; she's the sensitive outsider as protagonist. Frankie works in the restaurant she and her older brother have inherited, but mainly she drifts along aimlessly, cruising the boardwalk with her friend Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), who runs a piercing parlor but also works in the restaurant.

Nicola is something of a wild woman who drinks too much and flaunts her sexual availability. But her friendship with Frankie isn't as unlikely as it may first seem, and the peculiar dynamic between them helps propel the narrative. That dynamic changes dramatically, however, with the arrival of Josee (Joelle Carter), a real looker who quickly latches onto Frankie and clashes with Nicola.

The movie seems to be onto something when it shows Josee having passionless (on her part) sex with a local lifeguard. The stakes go up again when Josee displays some distinctly lesbian inclinations. Unfortunately director Robert J. Siegel loses his nerve and shifts his attention to a run-of-the-mill pseudoromance between Frankie and a shaggy drifter passing through town.

Although Swimming never quite jells, it's an agreeable showcase for three fine but very different characterizations. And for those who remember her as a promising child star in such mid-'80s movies as The Hotel New Hampshire, Mrs. Soffel, and Heaven Help Us, Jennifer Dundas Lowe (known back then as Jennie Dundas) confirms her talent. (Tuesday, November 7, 7:45 p.m., Gateway, Fort Lauderdale; Wednesday, November 8, 7:45 and 9:45 p.m., Gateway; 97 minutes)

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