(hoopla/kanopy/VOD) I’ll preface this by saying this isn’t exactly a recommendation. I found merit with the film and ultimately enjoyed it, but it is not a perfect work and is, perhaps, inherently exploitative.
PLEASE STAND BY is the story of a young autistic woman, Wendy (Dakota Fanning), who has been placed in Toni Collette’s home for autistic individuals by her older sister Audrey (Alice Eve), who has recently had a kid and self-proclaims that she doesn’t have the time to babysit Wendy as well.
Wendy, who has always been a huge STAR TREK nerd, sorts this out by writing a four-hundred some-odd page STAR TREK screenplay involving the complicated relationship between Spock and Kirk — Spock representing herself, Kirk representing her sister — for a $100,000 competition to celebrate STAR TREK’s 50th anniversary. Shortly after Wendy completes the absurdly long script, she realizes there’s not enough time to mail it, so she has to go on a journey to deliver it by hand.
A personal note: when I was a kid, I -loved- STAR TREK, and I particularly identified with Spock because he struggled with similar emotional issues that I grappled with. So, to see Wendy do the same warmed my heart, even if Spock is one of the easiest autistic analogues.
PLEASE STAND BY mirrors another relatively recent work centered around an autistic protagonist, Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: autistic person is mostly sheltered, has to venture out in the world, and their life becomes a living hell. It, like CURIOUS INCIDENT, was also written by a dude that found the concept of an autistic character ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’, and they decided they were the ones to tell this story. In the case of PLEASE STAND BY, writer Michael Golamco was inspired by the New York Times article ‘What Autistic Girls Are Made Of’ to write a one-act stageplay, and then turn that into PLEASE STAND BY. (Similarly, CURIOUS INCIDENT started as a novel, then became a Tony award winning musical.)
CURIOUS INCIDENT frustrated me because of how little research Haddon did. He wanted to tell the tale that he envisioned, details be damned. PLEASE STAND BY frustrates me because it’s a work extolling the creative nature of those with autism, but it’s written, directed, and performed by neurotypicals. It feels inherently disingenuous, despite the amount of research and experts they enlisted.
That said, it’s still an entertaining film, with fantastic performances all around, and it seems to have been well-received by the autistic community, especially since it is a positive portrayal of an autistic woman. Representation matters, but I would rather that it wasn’t via the writerly curiosity of a neurotypical man, regardless of how well-wishing his intents were.