Based on a 28-page one-act play by writer Michael Golamco, "Please Stand By" brings to life the serious issues of autism. Directed by Ben Lewin who has lived with a disability his entire life, he was compelled by Golamco's story because it doesn't focus primarily on autism, but instead addresses the particular circumstances one has to navigate as an adult with the condition.
Sisters Wendy (Dakota Fanning) and Audrey (Alice Eve) were forced to face some important decisions following their mother's death. Audrey married and had a baby, thus she was no longer able to care for Wendy, a 21-year-old who suffers with autism. Relegated to a group home run by psychologist and single mother, Scottie (Toni Collette), who has problems with her teenage son, Wendy consoles herself by writing.
She is a devoted Trekkie, well-versed in every aspect of "Star Trek". Paramount Studios has established a contest seeking new scripts for their Star Trek franchise. Wendy has completed a 500-page screenplay and is fiercely determined to enter the contest. With the deadline of February 16th looming, and not enough time to get it mailed, Wendy makes the bravest decision of her life --- to cross Market Street in San Francisco, an act forbidden in her daily routine.
But cross Market Street she does. With her little dog Pete in her purse, she manages to find a bus station, purchase a ticket and board a bus for Los Angeles, where her dream of submitting her very own script in person awaits her.
Though there may be some --- David --- who say this screenplay is a little far-fetched with implausible "for instances" --- for instance, how does Wendy eventually get onto the Paramount lot without anyone stopping her --- "Please Stand By" is an entertaining and enjoyable January release. Fanning and Collette work well together, with Fanning's portrayal of Wendy as believable as possible.
Perhaps the script and storyline of "Please Stand By" is a tad beneath the talent of these two women, especially Collette, but neither takes advantage of that by simply phoning in their performances. It's an endearing adventure, with a few twists and turns, but nothing too unsettling or dangerous happens to the unlikely heroine.
We find ourselves hoping and cheering for Wendy. Please may this odyssey turn out okay --- may she finally get her screenplay in on time, and can she actually reconcile with Audrey?
Patton Oswald has a brief role as an LA police officer tasked with locating Wendy. Some --- David --- may find it totally absurd. I think it's charming and delightful --- and, trust me, not all that absurd after having lived in LA the past 16 months.
"Please Stand By" --- a phrase Scottie uses to calm Wendy down --- will win no awards. But it is a sweet diversion if you've already seen all of the Oscar contenders.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Something as simple as crossing a busy street becomes high drama in this film about a 21-year-old autistic woman. "Please Stand By", while somewhat predictable and slightly flawed, is still a heartwarming and entertaining movie, far better than most January efforts we've come to expect.
Wendy (Dakota Fanning) has trouble in social settings, so to try and connect with fellow Trekkies, she writes a 500-page script based on her beloved "Star Trek" TV characters. Her plan is to enter it into a contest to win a $100,000 cash prize so she can live independently away from her group home, or maybe reunite with her sister Audrey (Alice Eve) and husband Jack (Michael Stahl-David).
However Audrey has just had a new baby, so having Wendy move in with them is not feasible in her eyes. Wendy's group home supervisor, Scottie (Toni Collette), is very protective of Wendy, even to the detriment of Scottie's son Sam (River Alexander), who feels neglected and under appreciated.
When she misses the mailing deadline for her script. Wendy takes off on her own from the home. Here "Please Stand By" also takes flight with a series of events that showcase the good and bad in people, all the while propelling Wendy into our hearts as someone for whom we can genuinely cheer on. Fanning delivers a resplendent performance as the central character, and her co-stars are equally deft in their roles.
Not familiar with the real world, Wendy is about to be scammed by a store clerk when she goes to pay for a bag of candy, but an elderly black woman steps in to save the day. When Wendy camps outside a station to await the morning bus, the station operator places a blanket over Wendy's sleeping body --- a small gesture but typical of the mood being created by director Ben Lewin and writer Michael Golamco.
But not everything goes smoothly on Wendy's odyssey to Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. She meets a woman with a baby who offers to give her a ride to LA, but the woman's boyfriend has other ideas, like stealing her iPod while they drive off without her.
Wendy's naiveté is contrasted with the brilliance that we often associate with autistic people. I loved the scene at Cinnabon (product placement!), the place of her employment, where she dazzles friends with Star Trek-related trivia, while helping one of her co-workers win a bet. It's a small gem of writing in a film filled with them.
As her sister Audrey, Eve is convincingly conflicted and sincerely concerned about her younger sibling's well being. Collette is one reason Jeanne and I wanted to attend this screening and she does not disappoint. Scottie (intentional Star Trek origin?) is a strong presence in Wendy's life, and her scenes with Sam as they try to find Wendy are affecting.
Patton Oswalt plays a kindly cop who just happens to speak a language that Wendy understands. That was a bit hard to swallow, but we'll overlook it and assume his character knew about Wendy's obsession with Star Trek as a necessary tool to get her back safely. And then there's Pete, the dog. OMG, you will love Pete!
Director Lewin helmed a film called "The Sessions" (2012), which garnered an Oscar nomination for Helen Hunt, who costarred with John Hawkes and William H. Macy. Jeanne and I met Lewin, his wife and Hawkes at a Chicago luncheon that year, and I believe the Polish-born filmmaker has attained the same level of audience satisfaction with "Please Stand By" as he did with that earlier movie.
Opinion: See It Now!