Romantic comedies are always looking to reinvent themselves, and Rachel Israel's debut feature Keep the Change arrives as a fresh iteration that still calls back to the genre's Nora Ephron-wave classics. The story follows the familiar arc of an ornery guy falling for a sweet girl, but what's new is that the protagonists, David and Sarah -- and the non-professional actors who play them (Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon) — are autistic.
I know what you're thinking: That's tricky territory. But Keep the Change, despite David's knack for making offensive jokes, is a charming, sensitive picture that embraces the characters as they are, without mocking them. The two meet at an autism support group at the Jewish Community Center in classic "opposites attract" fashion. David is the mumbling grump who wears his sunglasses indoors and cracks inappropriate jokes; Sarah always sports a gum-flashing smile and has a chirpy response to everything, like "delicious groovalicious."
The way Sarah touches David's life is exhibited through small but meaningful moments. Right after their first kiss (a hilariously sloppy one), the usually grumpy David is seen in a group meeting with a smile on his face. Of course, their relationship hits many bumps -- leading to a make-or-break climax -- but the resolution eschews the cheesy showiness of a typical rom-com for a quiet, tender one. The film, too, doesn't try to make a grand, virtuous statement about autism; it just allows its characters empathy while normalizing their struggles. When Sarah first tells David about her learning disability, he simply responds, "I guess everybody's got problems."