Front of the Class: Is the 20008 Docudrama Based on Real Life?

‘Front of the Class’ is a docudrama film that follows the story of Brad Cohen, a young man who aspires to be a teacher while also dealing with Tourette Syndrome. Living with Tourette’s from the age of six, Brad is faced with many societal challenges in life, but with the support and understanding of those closest to him, he is able to move forward one step at a time. This 2008 film is directed by Peter Werner and features the talents of James Wolk, Dominic Scott Kay, and Patricia Heaton.

It is an inspiring tale of one man’s struggle to be accepted by society for who he is and to show others that despite whatever difficult circumstances they find themselves in, they should not let it stop them from doing what they wished to do. The heartwarming story and the realistic representation of Tourette Syndrome in the film will certainly make a lot of viewers wonder about the inspiration behind the story, and whether it’s true or not.

Is Front of the Class a True Story?

Yes, ‘Front of the Class’ is a true story. The docudrama is based on the 2005 book ‘Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had’ written by the real-life Brad Cohen and co-authored by Lisa Wysocky. For the uninitiated, Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that is caused when the brain sends mixed signals to the body and makes people who suffer from it involuntarily move their bodies and/or make sounds. However, the condition is not limited to simply irrepressible body movements or noises and can manifest itself in various other ways in different people.

Throughout the film, we see from Brad’s perspective how people treat him as disruptive and an attention seeker whenever his tics act up. This unfair treatment of him is especially hurtful for a young Brad (Dominic Scott Kay) when it comes from his father, who believes that all his son lacks is discipline. Growing up with such a prejudiced view against him even after he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, it would have been perfectly understandable for Brad to be resentful of those around him. But he does not let people’s views of him and his condition define who he is as a person or how he conducts himself in life.

Aside from the representation of Tourette Syndrome and the day-to-day lives of those who live with it, the film also touches upon certain notions and practices against people with physical and intellectual disabilities which plague our society. These are shown in ‘Front of the Class’ through the teachers who believe Brad to be a nuisance and a “class clown” without attempting to understand why he acts the way he does, his therapists who misdiagnose him initially based on his family life, to the restaurants and other such publicly open businesses that ask Brad to leave their premises.

The film also brings the audience’s focus on single mothers and all that they do to help their children when everything else fails. Patricia Heaton portrays the role of Ellen Cohen, Brad’s mother, with such warmth and steel in her demeanor that it instantly makes her character endearing to the audience. Interestingly, Heaton has stepped into the role of a mother in hit shows like ‘The Middle‘ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ as well.

But what makes ‘Front of the Class’ believable and makes the viewers root for Brad Cohen is the absolute charm and dedication with which he has been brought to life on the silver screen by both James Wolk (Old Brad) and Dominic Scott Kay (Young Brad). Both actors went through rigorous coaching on how to realistically perform the tics associated with Tourette Syndrome while delivering their own dialogues in the film. For this, they were trained by dialect coach Mary Mcdonald Lewis and also went through several videotapes of the real Brad Cohen speaking in order to emulate his speech.

“It all has to be scripted, all the tics, because of editing and the continuity happening in the same place when you edit it,” Dominic Scott Kay said in an interview, about how the script has been designed keeping in mind the acting requirement for him and James Wolk. In the same interview, Wolk explained that the tics are listed as a visual sound and how the screenplay which he and Dominic had were different from the ones the other actors had.

‘Front of the Class’ explores the complexity of living with Tourette Syndrome, and at the same time, teaches people a lesson in individuality, the awareness of one’s own limitations, and that development is different for different people, and might not be at the same pace either. It also does a wonderful job of explaining that people’s attitudes toward themselves are more important than what others perceive them to be. The value of good educators who are accepting of the needs of their students as well as overcoming the tendency to blame others when experiencing difficulties and believing one’s own abilities are some of the central points of the film.

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