WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A young autistic woman runs away from her caregiver in order to boldly go and deliver her 500-page ‘Star Trek’ script to a writing competition in Hollywood. On an adventure full of laughter and tears, Wendy follows the guiding spirit of Mr. Spock on her journey into the unknown.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The depiction of Asperger’s and autism in general on screen has always been a hit and miss kind of affair, sometimes unnecessarily exaggerating the way that autistic people navigate the world and can cause skewed misconceptions.
Please Stand By doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t been done before in indie films covering a similar concept, but it does try to stick within a sense of authenticity for its lead character. But what makes it endearing is the lead’s intense interest in Star Trek, and her quest to tell her story through the world of Captain Kirk and Spock.
Wendy (Dakota Fanning) lives at a home where people on the spectrum get special care, but she has some independence with her own job and looking after her dog. All she really wants is to move back in with her sister (Alice Eve), who just had a baby, and submit her script for a Star Trek competition. After missing the deadline to send it by post, she decides to go on a road trip after escaping from her caretaker (Toni Collette) to the studio to submit her story in person.
The use of Star Trek in the film is very apt, with Spock being viewed as one of pop culture’s most famous autistic fictional characters – he always struggles with reconciling his human emotions with his Vulcan logic and people on the spectrum have always identified with his struggles. Wendy is obsessive over the TV franchise, with Spock obviously being her favourite, and finds a voice for herself through her fan fiction by placing herself in Spock’s shoes in her stories. Understanding what people who struggle with emotions resonate with is key to communicating with them, and in Please Stand By Wendy only feels a connection with people that speak the Star Trek lingo.
But besides the communication, the film also focuses on showing the capabilities of people with Asperger’s without diminishing the real challenges they face daily navigating a noisy world. Fanning may have been less visible in the movie world than her sister in her adult years, but she proves she still has the range she had as a child actor. However, this little indie film is in no way unique in its depictions, and stays within a constrained methodology much like the main character.
Director Ben Lewin, most famous for his off-beat comedy The Sessions, doesn’t really push boundaries in the performances, clearly worried about offending anyone, and writer Michael Golamco, who comes from the fantasy world of Grimm, could have gone for way more quirk in a movie that combines autism with Star Trek.
Although there’s a fine line between witty humour and offensive mocking, Please Stand By could have used more comedic elements so that it doesn’t feel so stiff for the audience.
Please Stand By is not a film you’d go out of your way to watch, as it missed the mark too much for art film fame and doesn’t have enough mainstream appeal beyond a Star Trek fanbase and perhaps those invested in autism awareness for various reasons. The scope of the film is much more suited to a streaming website than cinematic release, where it may have found a more willing audience who’d also learn more about the life of a person who must navigate their emotions and life like the Enterprise going through space.