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Please Stand By

Magnolia Home Entertainment // PG-13 // May 1, 2018
List Price: $17.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 31, 2018 | E-mail the Author
As the film industry reckons with inequality with regard to gender, sexuality, and race, the art itself also opens itself to more varied and sympathetic portraits that represent a full spectrum of characters and ideas. Please Stand By is a film about a character struggling with autism, and it features some compassionate performances from cast members Toni Collette, Alice Eve, and of course, Dakota Fanning, as the character in question. It's just a shame that the script, by writer Michael Golamco, isn't quite as sharp as the cast's commitment to it.

Fanning plays Wendy, who is living in a center run by a woman named Scottie (Collette), who helps patients work through the challenges presented by autism to try and form normal adult lives. Wendy has a job, working at a local Cinnabon, and takes care of a little dog named Pete. Although she clearly finds some things stressful or frustrating, she is mostly even-keeled, especially when it comes to working on her submission for a Star Trek writing contest. She loves the show, and dreams of winning the $100,000 cash prize for the best submission, in order to leave the center and move back in with her older sister, Audrey (Eve). When Audrey pushes back against this plan, as well as resisting Wendy's desire to meet Audrey's infant daughter Rose, Wendy becomes upset, and accidentally misses the mailing deadline for her screenplay submission. Determined to win the contest, she sets out on an unsupervised trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to deliver the entry in person before the deadline.

The best parts of the movie are focused on Wendy, and her relationships with other people. There is a charming, tentative attempt at courtship by Wendy's Cinnabon co-worker Nemo (Tony Revolori), who slips her a mix CD, and an amusing scene where she schools some other mall employees on Star Trek trivia. She bonds with Sam, briefly, over their shared fandom for Star Trek (as well as with a police officer, played by Patton Oswalt, in a more contrived but still relatively charming scene where Oswalt speaks Klingon). Most of all, even though Eve's character is underwritten, there is such a sincerity to Wendy's desire to meet Rose and find some sort of balance in her relationship with Audrey that the movie's most blatant plays for the movie's heartstrings tend to be successful, not least of the reasoning being Fanning's effectively internalized performance, avoiding eye contact and resisting big shows of emotion outside of one of her emotional breakdowns.

It's a shame, then, that so much of Wendy's more tactile challenges on her journey to Los Angeles are so contrived and entirely unrelated to the challenges she faces as an autistic woman. She is, predictably, robbed by a couple of petty thieves, leaving her without the money to buy food or check into a hotel. She hitches a bus inexplicably traveling what seems like a long way to a nursing home or retirement community, which crashes when the elderly driver falls asleep, landing her in the hospital. Even scenes that do a better job of integrating her condition into the narrative, such as one where something disastrous happens to the physical copy of her script, or a confrontation with an ornery and rule-obsessed office clerk, end up feeling contrived rather than naturalistic, driven by the conceptual need to keep Wendy on her own and out of her element more than actual character-based conflicts or realistic challenges that would arise naturally. Wendy doesn't need to be broke or injured for the effort to be impressive.

Director Ben Lewin keeps the film stylistically neutral for the most part, although the movie is invariably hampered by not having the right to use any sort of Star Trek footage, music, or imagery. When Wendy envisions her own screenplay, the characters wear face-covering spacesuits that (as far as I know, although I'm no Trek expert) don't resemble anything that was ever part of the series (the film retroactively justifies this later, but it still feels like a stretch). For the most part, this low-key approach works, but the limitations of Lewin's ambition (or perhaps, the film's budget) is realized in scenes like the awkward bus crash (which is less of a crash and more of a swerve and a stock sound effect). The best visual detail is Wendy's costume, which is adorned with necklaces for her iPod and notebook, and her colored sweaters which are coded to days of the week.

The Blu-ray
The design for Please Stand By's artwork is quite cluttered and a bit font-scattered, featuring a banner, credits, the title, tagline, and a pull quote scattered across a close-up on Fanning's face with the "live long and prosper" hand gesture boldly featured. A larger placement of the title over the image and a better position for the pull quote would help clarify things a bit. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
No issues with the film's 2.39:1 1080p AVC video or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio, which both look about as good/run-of-the-mill as one would expect from a modern production. Detail is excellent, colors seem natural, dialogue is clean and clear and music sounds nicely vibrant. There's really nothing overly special going on stylistically with either one, so there are no challenges here -- although there might just be a hint of banding right at the very beginning of the film. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
Two cursory extras are included. First, there are four deleted scenes (3:56), all of which concern the relationship between Scottie and her son Sam, and all of which were wisely excised. There is also an unremarkable, surface-level "Making of Please Stand By" (6:27) with the requisite amount of film clips.

Trailers for Permanent, 2:22, The Final Week, and promos for the Charity Network and axsTV play before the main menu, and are also available under the special features as "More from Magnolia." An original theatrical trailer for Please Stand By is also included.

Please Stand By is an admirable effort with a middling outcome, taking a strong central performance by Dakota Fanning and worthwhile supporting work from Alice Eve and Toni Collette and employing it in service of an overly familiar road trip movie that has nothing to do with the film's overall mission statement. It's fine, but a rental will be good enough.

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