The 2018 release, Please Stand By, is led by Dakota Fanning as Wendy, an autistic teenager forced to live in a San Francisco group home in part because her family doesn’t think she’s capable of safely living in a normal family environment.
Wendy is given a series of chores and routines to help her get through each day, with the assistance of her compassionate therapist, played by the prolific and seemingly hardest working actor in Hollywood, Toni Collette.
Despite managing to maintain a part-time job at the local Cinnebon, the film makes it clear Wendy struggles when dealing with interactions between people. There is one exception to this mundane existence undoubtedly important to Wendy: she has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Star Trek.
We find that she has been diligently writing a movie script of almost 500 pages, and is determined to enter it into a Star Trek scriptwriting competition offered by Paramount Pictures.
The difficulty of living with autism is highlighted during the first act with the challenges her sister Audrey (Alice Eve) faces when trying to deal with Wendy, and the film does a good job in portraying these family dynamics.
“As she begins to explain her impending move (presumably further away), Wendy, not realizing in Audrey’s tone that what her sister is saying might be important, interrupts and excitedly starts talking about her Star Trek script. The moment is all too real for anyone who knows someone on the spectrum. Wendy doesn’t take it personally and instead listens as Wendy describes the contest. Eve is perpetually on the verge of tears in this film, but this is the one scene where the emotional punch achieves everything it intends, without feeling gratuitous.”
Wendy missed the deadline for mailing out her massive screenplay, so she collects her supplies, along with Pete, the very cute and relevant to the storyline chihuahua, sneaks out of the house in the early morning hours, and manages to hop onto the local bus in an attempt to find her way to Hollywood.
You can probably guess things do not go as planned. Wendy meets the dark side of humanity during her potentially life-changing journey, as a series of unfortunate events befall her, delaying Wendy’s efforts to deliver her beloved script to the studio in this race-against-time adventure.
This is a road trip movie that does a good job of threading the line between comedy and drama. While it does have a few predictable movie tropes, “Please Stand By” offers a compelling lead with Dakota Fanning’s performance, as well as a very entertaining storyline, and a satisfying climax.
In case you’re wondering: no, you do not need to be a fan of Star Trek to understand or enjoy this movie. While it’s a big part of the story, the heart of the film is one family’s perspective on the challenges of living life with autism.
Wendy sees things differently: she’s fiercely independent, with a brilliant mind and a mischievous sense of hilarity. Wendy also has autism. To her, people are an indecipherable code and the world is a confusing place. Inspired by her no-nonsense caregiver, Wendy comes of age and escapes from her care home on the road trip of a lifetime to deliver her 500-page script to a screenwriting competition.
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