Please Stand By
Starring Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, Alice Eve, Patton Oswald,
What might look like another film about the world of an autistic individual struggling with the everyday norms of life, is actually a love letter to Star Trek fans. Please Stand By (the title is explained within the film) offers Dakota Fanning (American Pastoral) a role reversal from I Am Sam, the film that introduced the world to the young actress. Falling somewhere between a drama and a comedy, Please Stand By offers a new facet into the world of autism, and not the extremes Hollywood typically portrays. Fanning along with Collette, who is no stranger to mentally handicapped films and characters, deliver rousing performances that remind audiences there is more to an autistic person than just their handicap. Please Stand By has flaws, which come in the form of simple, yet frustrating real- world technicalities that could have easily been avoided.
Wendy (Fanning) has an hourly schedule that moves her through the day at her assisted living home with other mentally challenged young adults. Anything new she might learn is added to a blue notebook which hangs around her neck, along with a whistle, i-pod and Star Trek memorabilia. Wendy came to this new home after her mother passed, and older sister Audrey (Eve) started a family. Determined to make the deadline for Paramount Pictures Star Trek screenplay contest, Wendy sets out on her own to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Scottie (Collette) the head of the care facility and Audrey go chasing Wendy down the interstate, unaware of her goal in departure.
Fanning hasn’t been this good since… actually it might be the best performance from her since adulthood.
Michael Golamco’s script takes us into the mundane and structured life of someone dealing with autism. A specific color of shirt corresponding with the day of the week, same for food. “I hate my job. I can’t write when I want or eat what I want”, she explains. Wendy begs to go home with her sister when she pays a visit, but it’s the rejection that ignites the plot of the film. Please Stand By, is the phrase Scottie uses to calm and subdue Wendy when the rage occurs. Fanning hasn’t been this good since… actually it might be the best performance from her since adulthood. Collette has also suffered a plethora of misfires lately, back on her game here, although I wouldn’t say it’s a role that particularly showcases her range or talent.
Director Ben Lewin returns to familiar territory after Oscar nominated The Sessions, another film focused on handicap but with strong female performances. That’s actually one of the delights here, every service person, care person, main character and even minor character are predominately female. The little dog featured in the film also gets some major “aw” and laughter moments as it’s edited very well into the comedic timing of the movie. There are a handful of moments where the filmmakers fail the film on the authenticity front. In one scene a police officer says they are covering the whole state looking for Wendy, yet no one thought to check the nearby bus station where she stays for 11 hours. Or the fact that Wendy walks onto the Paramount lot with no security, simple things that could easily have been corrected became a distraction.
A well intentioned and alternative look at Autism through the eyes of a Trekkie.