CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, Alice Eve, River Alexander, Jessica Rothe, Michael Stahl-David, Patton Oswalt

Director: Ben Lewin

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Few Frank Mentions About Bodily Functions and an Emotional Breakdown or Two

Release Date: January 26, 2018 (Limited Theatrically and On Demand)

Early on in Please Stand By, Wendy’s (Dakota Fanning) Cinnabon co-worker Nemo (Tony Revolori) gifts her with a mix CD, which has me thinking, “Do people even make mix CD’s anymore?” As someone who believes in the virtue of simultaneously embracing both new and outdated forms of technology, I do not object to the presence of music on physical media (my own CD collection is still hefty and its recent slowdown in growth is due mostly to a dwindling in space and not a newfound preference for digital), but it does stick out as odd in a film that I am firmly certain is supposed to be taking place in the present day. In general, there are few, if any, clear markers indicating when Please Stand By is set. The best we have to go on is the fact that Wendy has an iPod, which tells us that the time must be no earlier than 2001.

It is fitting that Wendy’s story has a somewhat out-of-time quality to it. She is autistic and accordingly sticks to a strict routine, one that she has probably spent years firmly establishing. (That still doesn’t explain why her friend from work is still into CD’s, but whatever.) I believe that autistic characters have been well-represented enough in film and television that any single character does not have to bear the burden of representing ALL autistic people. And that is helpful, because while Wendy’s autism does play a major part in her story, it is specific in ways that go beyond that.

Ultimately from a certain angle this is a pretty simple road trip movie starring a girl and her chihuahua. They are heading out to California so that Wendy can hand-deliver her 500-page Star Trek script to Paramount Studios for a fan contest. She missed the mailing deadline due to stress involving family, and now her sister (Alice Eve) and caretaker (Toni Collette) are tracking her down to make sure she’s okay, seeing as she’s never been on her own before. This is a story of fandom, focused around a fan with an unfathomably deep interior life.

There is not all that much unique about Please Stand By. There are plenty of stories about obsessive fans, as well as ones about autistic people who struggle to connect with those around them. And it is no surprise that when you combine those two elements, you get someone who identifies deeply with Mr. Spock, as we have seen that plenty of times already as well. My Star Trek knowledge is sporadic (I’ve only seen the reboot films and the first episode of Discovery), but I believe I know enough about the major themes to say that Please Stand By does right by its inspirations. This is the sort of film that gives what is mostly a cameo outsize billing, but it feels justified: Patton Oswalt plays a police officer who speaks Klingon and makes the sort of day-to-day connection that Wendy has always been looking for. It is not instantly transformative, but it is the crux that represents the film’s easily digestible, reaffirming, humanistic message.

Please Stand By is Recommended If You Like: Star Trek (especially if you identify with Spock), Little Miss Sunshine, Patton Oswalt Cameos

Grade: 3 out of 5 Mix CD’s

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