THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


If As Good As It Gets had been made in London with that distinctly British sense of humor, it might have been something like Dirty Filthy Love. Now available on DVD from Sundance Channel Home Entertainment and Hart Sharp Video, the film tells the story of Mark (Michael Sheen), an architect who has lost his job and his wife due to erratic behavior. Mark has a combination of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Tourettes Syndrome, which would explain his behavior if he or anyone else understood what it was.

Markís tics get worse when heís upset. The thought that his wife might already be with another man is his primary trigger. He twitches his head, makes facial grimaces, barks like a dog, and shouts out profanities or insults. Mark believes that his anus should be cleaned a certain way, and he canít go up more than four stairs without going back down one.

One day, Mark meets Charlotte (Shirley Henderson), another victim of OCD. She runs a support group to which Mark is invited. The group performs activities like going to a farm and rubbing dirt all over their hands for five minutes. It becomes clear that Charlotte not only understands Mark but is a better match for him than his wife ever was. However, heís determined to put his marriage back together and reclaim his job Ė a plan which only serves to worsen his condition.

Dirty Filthy Love pulls off a pretty good feat: it earns laughs without making fun of people who suffer from OCD or Tourettes. Yes, the support group members have funny compulsions (one guy canít stop playing with the light switch) but the film obviously has sympathy for the plight of these characters. In one scene, Mark smears chocolate powder all over his face to illustrate his ability to fight a cleanliness compulsion; the scene is funny, yet you also root for him to succeed, as bizarre as the plan is. Over the years, Iíve known a number of people who suffered from OCD and/or Tourettes. Iíve seen the hell they can go through, and I can confidently say that Dirty Filthy Love offers a very accurate portrayal.

The movie never got an American theatrical release, which is a shame. If one of the independent companies Ė like Focus Features or Lions Gate Ė had distributed and promoted it, Michael Sheen might have been guided to a much-deserved Oscar nomination. This is a tour de force performance, accurate in showing what OCD looks like without going overboard or hamming it up. The actor takes Mark further and further into the abyss as the characterís life spirals out of control. Sheenís focus and attention to detail in portraying the affliction is masterful.

Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jonesís Diary) is good as well. Charlotte initially seems to be little more than a kook, but over the course of the story, we see her depth emerging. Henderson has a way of bringing an extra quirkiness to scenes that are already humorous, and she gradually reveals the pain that Charlotte hides beneath that quirkiness.

Itís safe to say that the story in Dirty Filthy Love does not contain a lot of surprises. You can probably already guess how most things (particularly the romantic triangle) will revolve themselves. Plot isnít necessarily the point though; this is a funny and accurate look at people who suffer from a condition that, at its most extreme, can make daily life torturous. You may have to look hard to find Dirty Filthy Love on the video shelf, but this is an affecting film that deserves to be discovered.

( out of four)

Dirty Filthy Love is rated R for sexual content, brief nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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