Please Stand By | Ben Lewin | January 26, 2018
Please Stand By, the latest from director Ben Lewin (The Sessions), portrays the life of Wendy (Dakota Fanning) a young woman with autism. She lives in a San Francisco group home where she has therapy sessions with her psychologist Scottie (Toni Collette) and spends the rest of her free time diving into classic episodes of Star Trek. She’s such an expert on the show that her fellow co-workers at the local Cinnabon set up bets with other mall employees to test her knowledge, winning them all money every time without fail.
Wendy longs to once again live with her sister Audrey (Alice Eve), hoping to prove that she is able to function in society so she can finally meet her niece Ruby (Presley Haslam) and help take care of her. But time is ticking as Audrey and her husband Jack (Michael Stahl-David) are about to move out of their childhood home. While watching her beloved Star Trek, Wendy notices a contest for fans to submit their own original screenplay for a chance to win a fat prize of $100,000. She sees it as a chance to put her expert knowledge to good use and use the money to save the house and live with her family once again.
The only thing is Wendy realizes it’s too late for her to mail the script in on time, forcing her to find a way to get to from San Francisco to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles to drop off the script herself. With no other choice, she’s forced to break out of her comfort zone and prove that she can be independent, taking off to L.A. with her trusted dog, Pete. As you can expect, the journey is anything but easy.
Lewin’s direction of Michael Golamco’s screenplay (adapted from his own stage play) creates a rather easy-going and often pretty charming story. Fanning and Collette are both strong in their respective roles, and it doesn’t take much pushing to take a liking to her and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. Only the script and direction don’t quite find a way to make any of it feel distinct, new, or fresh. The initial opening works well enough, but the road trip is a pivotal point in the story. There’s a few humorous moments on the road, as well as the occasional tender moment between Scottie and Audrey when they discover Wendy has taken off, but the mix of humor and drama felt tonally at odds with one another.
Fanning is committed to the role and does sell the growth of her character as a woman who doesn’t let autism define her. Both Collette and Eve have limited screen time, but give a great deal of warmth whenever the chance calls for it. There’s also a nice little cameo from Patton Oswalt as a cop in Hollywood who helps provide comfort to Wendy at a crucial moment of the story.
Please Stand By doesn’t break new ground but it’s an admittedly pleasant watch packed with well-intentioned themes and messages without ever being preachy. It makes up for what it lacks in originality with a big well-intentioned big heart.