TV vet Polly Draper comes out swinging in her debut as a feature writer-producer-star. Set in NYC's casually gritty jazz world, "The Tic Code" folds musicality, nervous disorder and family dynamics into a riveting all-ages package. Superbly acted and shot picture won two top trophies in Berlin's Kinderfest component, the audience award at the Hamptons and three prizes at Italy's Giffoni fest and best-overall jury nod at Vancouver's inaugural Reel to Real event, aimed at youth auds. Pic, which airs April 2 on Starz!, could easily strike a chord with older kids and adults looking for an entertaining slice of real city life.

TV vet Polly Draper comes out swinging in her debut as a feature writer-producer-star. Set in NYC’s casually gritty jazz world, “The Tic Code” folds musicality, nervous disorder and family dynamics into a riveting all-ages package. Superbly acted and shot picture won two top trophies in Berlin’s Kinderfest component, the audience award at the Hamptons and three prizes at Italy’s Giffoni fest and best-overall jury nod at Vancouver’s inaugural Reel to Real event, aimed at youth auds. Pic, which airs April 2 on Starz!, could easily strike a chord with older kids and adults looking for an entertaining slice of real city life.

In his sophomore effort (following the similarly stylish “Sweet Nothing”), helmer Gary Winick again proves himself a sensitive interpreter of other people’s material — in this case, a well-tuned script from “thirtysomething” thesp Draper, who also shines brightly as Laura, a downtown mom raising her gifted son alone. Ten-year-old Miles (Christopher Marquette, in an impressive perf) is a budding jazz pianist — much to the dismay of his uptight music teacher (Carol Kane), who wants him to emulate Horowitz — and an underage regular at a local nightspot, where the foul-mouthed barmen (Bill Nunn and Tony Shalhoub) hook him up with saxophone superstar Tyrone Pike (Gregory Hines). The latter takes an immediate liking to both the boy and his seamstress mom, who have an amazingly healthy relationship, by screen standards.

Turns out the big and little jazzers have more in common: Both come to the gig with relatively low-key cases of Tourette’s syndrome, a rare, non-life-threatening disturbance that causes a person to wear emotions, and just about everything else, on his sleeve. (Hence the winking title.) Miles has pretty much come to terms with his condition — except where it concerns his absentee dad (James McCaffery), a traveling jazzman freaked out by the boy’s odd , repetitive gestures. But Tyrone, who has developed a battery of mannerisms to cover his tics, is still in denial, and he feels less than flattered by the mirror held up by Miles and the slightly overeager Laura. His sexy bandstand pose is soon put to the test.

Draper has an unerring ear for the language of musicians (her pianist husband , Michael Wolff, co-produced and provided the tangy score), and her words are given force by a flawless ensemble, full of cameos from familiar faces, and soundly anchored by Hines’ uncompromising performance. The former dancer obviously worked hard with saxophonist Alex Foster, who provides the actual blowing, to come across true to the craft, and his Tyrone has all the hard edges of a top player whose success belies impenetrable layers of self-loathing.

Tale pushes hot-button topic of interracial conflict (and romance) and comes up with some probing insights, finding that otherwise savvy people sometimes dump their deep-seated phobias into the tribal arena. But “Code” pushes no agenda, and it never stoops to disease-of-the-week conventions. Draper and Winick (original helmer Norman Rene died during pre-production) use their Oliver Sacks–like setup primarily as an excuse to explore different modes of human expression, and other peoples’ varied reactions, to ultimately upbeat and frequently funny effect.

Pic reps a highly realistic view of the jazz scene, supported by excellent sound and exhilarating song choices.

The Tic Code

(FAMILY DRAMA)

Production

A Jazz Films (New York) production, in association with Gun for Hire. (International sales: Overseas Film Group, L.A.) Produced by Polly Draper, Karen Tangorra. Co-producer, Michael Wolff. Directed by Gary Winick. Screenplay, Polly Draper.

Crew

Camera (color), Wolfgang Held; editor, Bill Pankow; music, MichaelWolff; music supervisor, Barry Cole; production designer, Rick Butler; set decorator, Catherine Pierson; costume designer, Karen Perry; sound (Dolby SR), Brian Miksis; line producer, Diana Schmidt; assistant director, Kevin Moore; casting, Georgianne Walken, Sheila Jaffe. Reviewed at Vancouver Reel to Real Festival, March 3, 1999. (Also in Berlin Film Festival --- Kinderfest, competing; Hamptons Film Festival; Giffoni Film Festival.) Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Tyrone ..... Gregory Hines Laura ..... Polly Draper Miles ..... Christopher Marquette Todd ..... Desmond Robertson Michael ..... James McCaffery Miss Gimpole ..... Carol Kane Kingston ..... Bill Nunn Phil ..... Tony Shalhoub Morris ..... Fisher Stevens Mrs. Swensrut ..... Camryn Mannheim Marvin ..... David Johansen
With: Dick Berk, John B. Williams, Carlos McKinney, Allison Nurse, Peter Appel, Robert Ler, Pat Moya, Ismail Bashey, Michael Wolff.
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