As both medical understanding and cultural awareness about autism increases, individuals on the spectrum are also becoming increasingly visible in television and film. Whether the disorder is portrayed as bestowing borderline supernatural professional abilities, as in ABC’s “The Good Doctor” or the Ben Affleck vehicle The Accountant, or simply as an additional obstacle to awkward teen dating, as in Netflix’s “Atypical,” the depiction of autism is more often used as a plot contrivance rather than an exploration of the humanity of people with the disability.

Please Stand By succumbs to a similar pitfall. Young adult Wendy’s (Dakota Fanning) fixation on Star Trek imbues her with encyclopedic knowledge of even the most obscure series trivia, even though she must rely on a strict daily routine and crucial notes she scribbles in a notepad in order to remember how to function in society. She’s living at a group home because her sister, Audrey (Alice Eve), got pregnant and decided she couldn’t trust the behaviorally volatile Wendy around the baby. Though she misses home, Wendy’s begun to thrive in this assisted-living setting, maintaining order through such strategies as color-coordinating her sweaters to specific days of the week. She even holds down a job at the local Cinnabon, where she must consciously remind herself to modulate the pitch in her voice when offering samples to various customers in order to avoid sounding robotic.

What sets the film’s rather slight plot in motion is, of course, her Trekkie passion. She feverishly works on a manuscript for a national Star Trek screenwriting competition, but when Audrey visits to inform Wendy—who cruelly isn’t even allowed to meet the baby—that she’s selling their dead mom’s home and moving away, the subsequent upset prevents Wendy from getting her script postmarked in time. Determined that winning the prize money will somehow allow her to move back in with Audrey, Wendy realizes she still has the weekend to boldly trek from San Francisco to the Paramount Pictures studio in L.A. to hand-deliver her script, and she embarks with her pet chihuahua on a self-actualizing road trip where she will prove both resourceful and naïve in her interactions with a chaotic world she only partially understands.

Please Stand By stops short of the tendency of 2016 documentary Life, Animated to almost religionize a pop culture institution’s effect on an autistic individual—in that case, Disney animated films—but Star Trek is still given too much convenient import. Wendy’s compassionate group-home caregiver just so happens to be named Scottie (Toni Collette), and when Wendy’s journey leads her into a sticky situation involving the cops, it’s a nerdy officer (Patton Oswalt) speaking Klingon that ultimately gets through to her. Wendy relating to the literal-minded Spock may be too on-the-nose, but her manuscript’s plot of Spock inventing a coldly clinical method in order to allow himself to feel emotion does end up rather endearing.

A slight premise and a committed yet uninspiring performance by Fanning—whose character’s refusal to make eye contact, monotone delivery and various quirks seem to simply be checking off all the autism boxes rather than imbuing an unconventional character with additional depth—ultimately doom Please Stand By to mediocrity. To its credit, the film rarely indulges in full-on sentimentality, and Wendy is easy enough to root for, but in cloaking its protagonist’s humanity in one-dimensional behavioral quirks, this film about autism only goes where many others have gone before.

  • Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls

    Criminally Underrated: Uptown Girls

    Uptown Girls is not only supposed to be about learning to act your age but also of the dan…
  • The Catcher Was a Spy

    Moe Berg’s story deserved a better movie. …
  • Imperium

    Imperium tries to win you over with a dozen Nazi cupcakes. …
  • Copshop

    A hard boiled pressure-cooker whose smaller scale only intensifies the tension and eventua…
  • Oeuvre: Melville: The Silence of the Sea

    What emerges is the story of two people holding off against the forces of occupation in th…
  • Fire Music

    It’s a no-brainer for anybody who listens to experimental music. But the film’s success is…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: The World’s End

In 2013, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg joined forces yet again and fittingly capped off thei…