Please Stand By (2017)

  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Ben Lewin
  • Cast: Dakota Fanning, Helen Hunt, Alice Eve


A young autistic woman runs away from her caregiver in an attempt to submit her manuscript to a “Star Trek” writing competition.


  • In Please Stand By, Dakota Fanning plays Wendy, a young woman on the autism spectrum who is also a Star Trek aficionado. She lives in a group home run by a psychologist felicitously named Scottie (Toni Collette), who trains her to hold eye contact for more than three seconds and adhere to a routine that helps to maintain her equilibrium. This includes wearing specifically coloured clothes (orange on Mondays, lavender on Tuesdays, blue on Wednesdays, etc.), follow the same path to the bus stop where she will take the bus so she can get to her job working at a Cinnabon, walking her dog Pete in the afternoon, and watching reruns of Star Trek on the TV Land network at night.

    When Paramount Pictures announces a screenplay contest to commemorate the show’s 50th anniversary, Wendy sees it as a perfect opportunity not only to celebrate her favourite show but to use the $100,000 prize to buy back her childhood home and move back in with her older sister Audrey (Alice Eve). When she announces this to Audrey during a visit, Audrey is stricken – yes, Wendy has made progress, but she can’t trust her sister, who’s had a history of violent tantrums, around her baby. Wendy’s stress is further compounded when she realises that she’s missed the post office deadline to submit her 450-page screenplay. Yet she resolves to make her way to Paramount Pictures and so she sneaks out of the home with Pete and embarking on a life-changing journey.

    Though her trek, pardon the pun, is fraught with dangers both major and minor, there is never any sense that Wendy will get through it all anything but unharmed. If anything, her encounters with various strangers feel almost incidental, all of them acting more as a deus ex machina than actual multi-dimensional characters. Which is a shame, especially since the characters played by Marla Gibbs, a retirement-village resident who befriends her, and Patton Oswalt, a cop who gains her trust by speaking Klingon, are interesting in their own right and merit more screen time.

    Yet, for all its stereotypical offbeat quirks and too-pat plotting, one can’t be too grudging against Please Stand By. It’s harmless and pleasing with reliable support from Collette and Eve, an affecting lead performance from Johnson, and one of the most adorable and expressive dogs in recent memory.

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  • “Like Spock, for example.
    He’s half-human, half-alien.
    He has trouble dealing with his emotions.
    Where did it say that?
    That’s just how he is.”

    Although “Stand by me” is a fairly predictable film and unrestrainedly endeavors to strike a sensitive nerve, I’m all for such a type of film. The number of films about individuals with a disability, who try to survive in our society where perfection is the standard nowadays, and who succeed in making great achievements, is endless. “I am Sam“, “Forrest Gump“, “Rain Man“, “The theory of everything“, “Still Alice“, “X + Y” and “Who’s driving doug“, to name but a few. These are all films where one feels sorry for the main character first. And after a while you realize that these persons surpass all expectations and amaze themselves about their own abilities. Just like Wendy (Dakota Fanning), who suffers from a severe form of autism so that communicating with her environment is a huge obstacle and her daily life is determined by a strict schedule. Handing in a self-written script for a “Star Trek” episode, however, ensures that this well-ordered and well-defined life is shaken up.

    All due respect to Dakota Fanning. The way she played this complex character deserves all praise. She distanced herself from all the possibilities available to portray Wendy with all possible tics and ridiculous rituals. Also the phenomenon of autism was not unnecessarily enlarged by her. Apart from the compulsive writing down of all kinds of facts in her notebook and the pattern of colorful sweaters she’s wearing on specific days, she seems to function reasonably normal. Not as Freddie Higmore who plays a similar character in “The Good Doctor” with a forced intonation making him sound like a voice computer with incorrectly installed software from Lernout & Hauspie. And yes, I know the spectrum of autism is fairly broad. But I appreciated the modesty with which Dakota Fanning played the person Wendy.

    Also Toni “Miss you already” Collette played a not so bad part as Scottie who leads the home where Wendy lives. A patient and passionate person who guides each individual in this center and tries to point these individuals the right way towards a bearable personal life. It wasn’t immediately clear to me whether Scottie was her real name or a kind of joke because of Wendy’s passion for the television series “Star Trek“. Frankly, I felt that all other characters fulfilled their job in an orderly manner. The fact they came across as plain add-ons is entirely due to the beautiful acting of Dakota Fanning of course. The entire film shows how Wendy’s trust grows and she shifts her own boundaries (even if it’s just crossing a specific street).

    “Please stand by” is not primarily about how autists handle themselves and how confusing their view on life is. The subject isn’t really thoroughly explored or explained in this area. I can’t even remember the word autism being pronounced once. Only a brief remark by a devout, old female about her grandson who displays an identical behavior. It’s actually a kind of adventurous quest with the ultimate goal of delivering the filmscript. And so Wendy needs to follow a path, completely normal for average people, where she meets a lot of people with bad intentions. And each time she’s saved by caring persons. Almost something like Frodo and that damn ring he had to throw in Mount Doom. Also a risky quest full of obstacles and devious creatures. But then without the autism phenomenon.

    Finally, a big applaus for the dog Pete who accompanies Wendy the whole way. They looked like Dorothy and Toto heading for the Wizard of Oz. Fortunately, the duo wasn’t as annoying as Reese Witherspoon and her little pooch in a pink outfit in “Legally Blonde“. And the most surprising moment was when a policeman talked to Wendy in a very remarkable way. But you have to discover that yourself when you watch this engaging and charming film.

    P.S. If the script “The many and the few” really exists, I hope it’ll become a real film. The fragments of text that were read, sounded intriguing!

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