PLEASE STAND BY: Very Likely To Win You Over
Please Stand By is already a favorite for this year, with a stunning craft in recycling an overused story telling formula, strong talent to bring it to life and and one of the more accurate depictions of autism.
Each of us has a light with us that is continually moving. For some of us, this light travels at the speed of sound, breaking through every barrier before them with ease. Others, their light is a steady and even paced path to becoming who they are going to be. Some, however, take just a little more time and nurturing. Many of us, at one time or another, can relate to the latter, fear creeping into the crevasses of our minds that we will never be who we are to become – to reach our full potential.
Please Stand By opens with this reference of light traveling through the Galaxy, and the question of what if the light never reaches its destination. It’s a brilliant preface to the challenges that face the film’s main character Wendy (played by Dakota Fanning) on a daily basis, as well as prefacing the journey she will undergo. Even more brilliant with regards to this introduction is its parallelism of traveling light and life’s journey smoothly transitioning into the sci-fi element of Please Stand By – a pivotal drive for Wendy. It slowly brings viewers in the world of Star Trek instead of throwing them in – a decision, if made differently, could have turned many viewers off too the film.
Yet, this was only one of some of the brilliant decisions made by director Ben Lewin and screenwriter Michael Golamco throughout Please Stand By – a film that stands out for its endearing take on a young woman pushing beyond the boundaries of her autism to achieve her dreams and for the talented actress that would bring her to life.
Please Stand By For The Film You SHOULD Be Watching
Living in a local care center in California, Wendy (Dakota Fanning) has found the structure and support to thrive in the community. Left by her sister who is not as capable in managing Wendy’s autism as their mother was, Wendy has pushed through her barriers securing a job, caring for her own hygiene and finding joy in the hobbies she is given time to explore. With the help of Scotty (Toni Collette), the center’s primary therapist, Wendy has learned to manage a life with autism and discover independence.
One night during the broadcast of her favorite show Star Trek, it is announced that Paramount Pictures is embarking on an unprecedented competition among screenwriters to find a new script for a new Star Trek film – and as luck would have it, that is exactly what Wendy has been working on. To be considered, all perfectly formatted completed scripts must be submitted by February 16 to Paramount Pictures by 5:30PM.
Determined to be a contender, Wendy finishes and verifies that her perfectly formatted complete script is ready to go, finding to her distress that getting it to the post office is an impossible task. With the script deadline Tuesday, the post office closed on Sunday and a holiday on Monday, it seems all hope is lost, Wendy reciting “Please Stand By” to herself to keep from melting down.
As she begins to calm down, a realization occurs to her, the only sensible solution to her problem – she will need to bring her perfectly formatted completed script to Paramount Pictures herself. Packing only the essentials (peanut butter, jelly, bread and a bottle of water), Wendy, waiting until the sun has begun to shine as it is safer, sneaks out of the home, determined to complete her submission.
Wendy, however, finds a world, like her sister, ill-equipped to give her what she needs and getting to Los Angeles may prove more challenging than she could have ever imagined.
Please Stand By for Skill
The plot of Please Stand By is far from intricate, it’s storyline technically a recycled structure with different characters, motive and challenges. At its basic, stripped of all the glamour, it is a story about an individual that travels to achieve a goal, struggles with each new bump in the road and finds new meanings in life – both for themselves and others. As I said, nothing new.
Yet, it is the nuances that are interlaced throughout Please Stand By and throughout the strength in each character’s development that truly makes this film endearing. While at times unlikely, each obstacle that Wendy faces showcases the detail in character, the relatable and, at many times, the misunderstood aspects of her condition. There is a deeper emotion invested through these small details and nuances that allows one to overlook this commonly used cinematic formula.
Humor within Please Stand By also helps to alleviate the exhausted storyline. Yet, the humor utilized within the film does not sacrifice the integrity of the character, instead strengthening your emotions towards her. Wendy’s responses, actions and (again) nuances give writer Michael Golamco enough humor to further make the character endearing, as well as expand knowledge and understanding of Wendy to the audience.
Music in Please Stand By was by far one of the top elements that director Ben Lewin and composer Heitor Pereira got right with this film. It was very well composed and compiled. There were a few moments where I felt as though I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or The Vampire Diaries where the interlaced songs mimicked a vital scene, heightening the drama, emotion and intensity of the scene as it does in these shows. This TV technique may not work for all films, but it certainly was the perfect fit here.
Please Stand By for Talent
While this is not a film with a groundbreaking plot or vast technicals that need unending praise, Please Stand By is a film that should be recognized for the strength of its actors. With its stand out leading lady, strong supporting cast and satisfying cameos, the acting in Stand By Me is a category all its own
There is something to be said about watching an actor grow in their career and through the roles they choose. It is another thing completely to watch an actor literally grow up, a childhood lived twice through life and film. Dakota Fanning has been on the scene since she was seven years old, making a name for herself with her performance in I Am Sam.
Since then, she has gone on to star in the Twilight Saga, The Cat in the Hat, The Alienist, War of the Worlds, Man on Fire, and The Runaways – just to name a few. Her portrayal as Wendy in Please Stand By, however, is one that should not be overlooked. The intricacies of her character go beyond the traditional interpretation of someone with autism. There was a commitment and a dedication to properly portray Wendy in every aspect – and it payed off. I honestly I have to admit that this has become on of my favorite of her roles to date.
Toni Collette was a perfect casting for Scotty, many of her previous characters (including her motherly performance from The Sixth Sense) culminating into the role of a therapist who seemingly loves her in-house patient as much as she would her own child. There are times when you seen the frustration building, yet is immediately suppressed – the well being of the patient always more important than one’s self. Joining Collette in the supporting roles is Alice Eve – who sadly I spent about half of the film trying to figure out why she was.
She delivered a solid performance as the distraught sister who knows she is ill-equipped to handle her sister, yet is fighting the guilt of leaving her in a home. Her casting was very clever as the entire film centers around Wendy delivering her perfectly formatted completed Star Trek script. Alice Eve (as I eventually figured out) starred as Carol Marcus along side Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. A clever Easter egg for those who catch it.
There were also a couple really awesome and satisfying cameos within Please Stand By that rounded out our solid cast. While waiting for a bus to Los Angeles, Wendy is shown a small kindness at the ticket booth by none other than Laura Innes – who is best known for her run as Carrie on ER. Her character is one of the few who bring kindness and understanding into the film, her character radiating a heart that sees no difference between herself and the person in front of her.
In a larger cameo role, Patton Oswalt plays Officer Frank, who was also as kind as the as the ticket clerk. His character is the only cop who has the knowledge and kindness to communicate with Wendy. He does not see her as a patient or a missing person, but instead as an equal. This was the first film that I have seen him in since the sudden passing of his wife Michelle McNamara in 2016, and it was really nice to see him return to the big screen.
Please Stand By for Accuracy
One of the biggest successes of this film was its portrayal of an individual living with autism. Notice I said living – which I applaud this film for showing. Wendy lives at the care center, and while cared for and looked after by others, she has learned to take care of parts of her life herself. She is able to check when a towel needs washing, take herself to and from work alone, utilize an hour of free time as she sees fit and care for her own hygiene. Yes, it is structured (sometimes obsessively) and restrained, but she is living a fairly normal life despite her condition.
The details that were incorporated into the script and into the filming were appropriate and accurate as well. While at work, each bun frosted is stroked three times with frosting on each side and there is an inner monologue of her repetitively telling her self to smile and alter the tone of her voice as she hands out samples of the buns. Eye contact is constantly avoided, a visual struggle just before Wendy has to do it.
When Wendy and Scotty are having their meeting, Wendy is even asked to maintain eye contact for three seconds – which she refuses but eventually does. Wendy is brutally honest, no filter in place to edit and no ability to lie. Touching is off limits for Wendy and lining items up, even though a commonly referenced aspect, are also utilized within the film allowing for a strongly developed character, as well as attributing to the knowledge of viewers.
It was very sad at times to watch her interact in the world – the ignorance of people who do not know, understand or have the ability to identify those individuals who are different. There were very few people along the way who understood what she needed a little extra help and extended it. An old lady helps her at a check out, another lady covers her with a blanket, and a coworker makes her a mix CD. Many, however, do not understand that she does not understand new procedures and changes in routine – a bus driver kicking her off a bus because she needs to purchase a ticket in advance instead of paying at pick up.
This brings to the aspect of family and those individuals who are seemingly “made” for special needs. Wendy’s sister knew she was not capable and put her in a home where Scotty has the means, know how and disposition to successfully bring her to a sense of normalcy. Wendy’s sister even discusses the difference between both her and her mother and Scotty, the differences between how they are able or not able to help Wendy. This was brilliant on he part of scriptwriter Michael Golamco as it does not show fault in the families that need help for the success of their loved one, instead the acknowledgement that they are not able to provide what is needed.
Please Stand By for a Conclusion
While it is still early in the year, Please Stand By is already a favorite for this year. With a stunning craft in recycling an overused story telling formula, strong talent to bring it to life and and one of the more accurate depictions of autism, Please Stand By is likely to win you over as successfully as it did me.
Have you seen Please Stand By? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!
Please Stand By was released to VOD streaming in the USA on January 26, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.