There may be just a couple of groan-inducingly dreadful lines in the script – although there’s never anything as heinous as ‘I know he's the hero of Star Wars, but who exactly is this Kirk person?’ in any of the scenes featuring Dakota Fanning’s Wendy herself – and Michael Golamco’s adaptation of his own stage play might be as manipulative and mostly as predictable as a Channel 5 TV movie, but those turn out to be very minor shortcomings and Please Stand By easily transcends any criticism you could raise in its sensitive, analogous and life-affirming portrayal of an autistic girl on a mission.
Fanning’s mission is to boldly go where Wendy has never gone before; having missed the last posting date she has two days to deliver her 427-page Star Trek screenplay to Paramount in person, if she wants to win their fiftieth anniversary scriptwriting competition. Trouble is, Paramount’s headquarters are on the other side of Market Street – 240 miles on the other side, as it happens – a road she’s been forbidden from ever crossing. Will she make it in time? And will she go on to win the competition?
From the start, Ben Lewin’s film proves its worth with its quietly attentive and mostly authentic depiction of Wendy’s condition, save for a few concessions it necessarily makes to its audience and its ninety-minute running time. This is no Rain Man, ostentatiously gunning for Oscar; rather, Wendy – in a relatively similar place on the spectrum to the one inhabited by Dustin Hoffman – manages a modicum of interaction with the people around her, and is aware enough of her environment to have found something to connect with, that illuminates her situation and provides her with both a focus and a goal.
That something is of course Star Trek, although Golamco keeps it far enough from centre-stage not to be off-putting to anyone who’s not a fan – bringing it back in during a series of sequences in the final third such that you’ll find yourself cheering the kind of people who think there’s nothing unusual in learning Klingon as a second language. Indeed, despite that the rest of Lewin’s film is low-key enough not to seem needlessly setting itself up to tug at your emotions, the last twenty minutes manage to cross every bridge Golamco builds without feeling remotely clichéd or calculating.
It’s quite an achievement, with the invisibly subtle use of sound and music immersing you in Wendy’s world as soon as her journey begins. This might be unrealistically innocuous at times, perhaps too shy of showing some of the real challenges she would have faced, but in terms of balancing insight and entertainment without being either preachy or crass, this is consummately well-judged.
PLEASE STAND BY / CERT: M (AUS) / DIRECTOR: BEN LEWIN / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL GOLAMCO / STARRING: DAKOTA FANNING, TONI COLETTE, ALICE EVE, RIVER ALEXANDER, BLASTER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW