Please Stand By (PG-13)

Comedy 93 min. January 26, 2018
By April Wolfe
In Ben Lewin's twee coming-of-age comic drama Please Stand By, a young woman on the spectrum becomes obsessed with entering her Star Trek spec script into a contest. Dakota Fanning, who plays young Wendy, seems to have done her research, portraying a believable character and drawing sympathy from the audience without making Wendy pitiable. But the film itself is often flat, akin to a very well-directed after-school special crafted exclusively to dramatize what it might be like to either live on the high-functioning end of the spectrum or care for someone who's there. It's possible that audiences might appreciate illumination about the intricacies of neurodiversity, and that "explainer" movies like these are beneficial -- hell, even necessary -- to catch people up, but the film never transcends its PSA nature.

Wendy identifies with Star Trek's Spock, a character who does not express emotion the way the humans around him do. We hear Wendy's script in voiceover as she writes it -- this is the film's most thoughtful, reflective element. Wendy embarks on a journey from San Francisco to Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. Everywhere she goes, strangers stop to help her, the naif on the side of the road. Even when she's inevitably mugged, the mugger is quite sorry about it. And when a ticket taker at the bus station reacts the way someone in real life might when met with a passenger who doesn't make eye contact and holds up a line, it's almost shocking; until that moment, Lewin had us living in a fantasy world.
Ben Lewin Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, Alice Eve, River Alexander, Marla Gibbs Michael Golamco Magnolia Pictures

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