PG-13, but I'm not exactly sure why. It might have a little bit of language. I suppose some of the arguments get pretty intense. But the movie is fairly tame in terms of actual content. Apparently, there's a cut of extremely brief nudity, but the version I saw didn't have this. (I watched it on Hulu.) There's one f-bomb, but that's about it. Extremely tame PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Ben Lewin
Yeah, I'm being pretty indulgent right now. I can totally call myself out on that one. I love Star Trek and any excuse to find a way to find Star Trek related properties seems to make my list. Do you know how much I want other people to watch something Star Trekky with me? I know my wife doesn't care about Star Trek, but I'm trying to figure out how to get my wife to watch Star Trek: First Contact for my birthday with her phone locked in a box. (She sometimes reads my writing if she watched the movie with me. This is just a giant hint dropped.) But I even want to go as far as seeing What We Left Behind, the new Deep Space Nine documentary. (That trailer, yo.) I know that Star Trek related property isn't as substantial as actual Star Trek stuff. I'm thinking primarily of stuff like For the Love of Spock. But Please Stand By is possibly the easiest sell that can I can do to watch something Star Trek-tangential without getting looks from non-sci-fi fans.
I'm not really going to gush about this movie. It's good. I enjoyed it. It really did its job. But in terms of great film, I don't know if it actually does anything outside of expectations. This crossed my path a while ago with a trailer. It is one of those movies that is so accessible that is almost Serkian in its irony. (You're welcome.) The movie is meant to move you. It's end result is to move its audience. It's a really good meatloaf. If Hallmark is hospital cafeteria meatloaf, a movie like Please Stand By is your mom's best meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes and buttered peas. Yeah, it's real comfort food. The fact that it is about Star Trek is almost arbitrary. As a huge Star Trek fan, it slightly dips its toe into the Big Bang Theory pool by showing that only the marginalized really find value in Star Trek itself. It kind of is a no-win situation for me. (A real Kobiyashi Maru!) I love when people talk about Star Trek lovingly. This movie does it for me in spades. It talks about how Star Trek is tied to people who feel on the outside, but does so in a positive way. It's Roddenberry's message distilled into a twee indie dramedy. I love that so much. But the other end of that story is that element of Star Trek being only for the outsider. Yeah, it's great that Star Trek seems to appeal to the Spocks out there, but what about the people who just love wonderment? I get it. It is really hard to have one without the other. The bigger element is the win. I think that a movie about how Star Trek appeals to people who are on the spectrum is smart. One of the protagonists, Spock, has a hard time understanding emotions. I can't even just attribute this to Spock. The show has gone out of its way to continually bring back this archetype in some form or another. The Next Generation had Data. Deep Space Nine had Odo. Voyager had Tuvok (kind of a cop out when it came to that.) Enterprise had T'Pol, again a cop out. Discovery kind of has Burnham, Tilly, and Saru all filling that role. There's something appealing to viewing a great big universe when you have a hard time relating to others. Yeah, it's a bit on the nose to tell the tale of a girl on the spectrum relating to Star Trek. But I don't know if everyone necessarily gets that. I'm a part of a bunch of fandom groups on Facebook (I'm so proud of this moment) and the ones that surround the genre television I enjoy tend to be comprised of a noticable percentage of people on the spectrum. Maybe I also like that kind of thinking. I mean, I write a blog a day talking about movies that I like because no one will really talk to me about them in my real life. That level of obsession draws a certain crowd and I love it.
I don't think that this movie really has nuance, though. I think we've avoided the autism-as-superpower trope that a lot of movies carry. But Wendy does kind of seem broad strokes. I think I realized this pretty quickly when she describes her job at Cinnebon. Again, I'm completely basing this on my own thoughts, but is Dakota Fanning learning from people on the spectrum or has this become another Rain Man impersonation. Clearly, Dustin Hoffman got something right. But Wendy, as a character, is almost more reinforcing of a tone than actually building a unique character. In the world of otherness, I feel like everyone's functionality is their own. Yet, we keep seeing the same archetypal character show up for the people on the spectrum. It is interesting because the home where Scottie works (Yup...Scottie) has people with varying conditions. Yet, the character we see most often is the character like Wendy. I have theories why this is. Is Wendy considered "functioning enough" to justify a narrative. Wendy has bad days. She probably has bad moments every day, but her character is categorized by structure. The more rigid to her structure, the more successful she is probably deemed. (That's a clunky sentence that I just don't have the gumption to fix.) If one of the great narrative structures is the fish-out-of-water story, a character who exhibits traits like Wendy's is the ideal situation. The more uncomfortable that the protagonist can get, the more the story can move forward. Because Wendy has strategies for overcoming problems, the narrative can continue on towards an ideal conclusion. This means that when the filmmakers need her to breakdown, it isn't that hard to justify it. It also means, because the concept of Wendy being on the spectrum can seem foreign to a lot of us, that when she is successful and functional, we can also justify it. Not only do we, as an audience justify it, but it also appeals to that sense of relief. This is where the comfort food moments happen for us. We have a secondary, removed sense of success for ourselves. It's kind of a win-win for a filmmaker to make a movie like this. We instantly feel moved during Wendy's breakdowns. We feel the sense of control leaving us, but that sense of control is instantly restored when a scene transitions. Heck, sometimes we can even get it within the scene. The title of the movie, Please Stand By, refers to her mantra to bring a sense of calm in tense situations. Those words actually give a signal to the audience that they can prepare for a sense of normality again. It's really odd. I never realized how kind of manipulative the Rain Man formula is. I also know that people on the spectrum don't necessarily love Rain Man. I don't know if it is just because of the magic powers imbued upon the differently abled, but it is something to look at. Like, it's interesting when a character has "real" superpowers, but I also think it might be an unfair representation. Regardless, Please Stand By avoids these tropes.
I don't know if Please Stand By is too simple of a movie. I keep flashing back to Little Miss Sunshine, even though these are completely different films. I suppose the connection is the travel narrative presented in each. The aesthetic of the film seems to be almost be duplicating the twee aesthetic of the family comedy. As much as I liked the film, the movie almost seems to be a photocopy of all of the things that came before it. I know that Toni Colette seems to be playing this role a lot. Like comfort food, the movie is almost completely devoid of surprises. Actually, there is one surprise in the movie and I really don't like it. I mean, like meatloaf, I don't care that much. But it is kind of breaking one of my rules. The trailer shows this moment, so if you need a refresher, you can check that out. Wendy drops her script. Her four hundred something page script goes off a balcony and she can only rescue part of it. It's the Macguffin for this film...kind of. When she drops it, she has a choice to make that is crucial to the film: does she go home or does she finish her journey with a fraction of the script? The script is the motivating drive within the story. Yeah, I knew that it wasn't going to win. You can't film a script that is that long. But the moment she decides to go through with her initial plan, despite not having a finished product is an agreement that the film makes with its audience. By giving her her script back, there's kind of a cheat. She never actually has to problem solve what to do with an incomplete script. The choice is taken out of the protagonist's hand and we get this deus ex machina ending. Her family found the remaining pages of her script and gave them to her. Out of the myriad of deus ex machina endings, it at least is a nice ending. It stresses the value of family and that dependence isn't the worst thing in the world. But we are stuck wondering how she's going to solve this problem. She never does. It's kind of like Indy leaving the temple and the knight just handing him the grail afterwards. The decision to abandon the script has happened and we're supposed to live with the consequences. But because this movie is meatloaf, we have to have the comfortable ending. I mean, it leads to her saying that great line about having written something, again in the trailer. There's a lot of quality that is sacrificed for the sake of tone. I would have loved to see the gutsy ending where she didn't get to turn in a full script. It would have been a marvel to have someone see her story and help her get a Cinnabon-y type job as a PA or something for Paramount Pictures. Okay, that ending is cornball, but it also isn't breaking the pact that we made with the audience. If the prize is unobtainable, you can change the prize. After all, she never was going to win the contest, so why don't we have her shift her perspective. Maybe the missing script pages fall by the way of someone else, who is inspired to finish the script? Maybe that person makes a really good fan film and brings together a community to actually make the movie she wanted? I don't know. I'm just spitballing now. But it is a bit of a cheat.
I liked the movie. It's not amazing. I wanted my wife to really get into it, but she didn't seem very interested at all. I'm not going to take that personally. It was a fine movie that does exactly what a Star Trek related property should do. It is meant to remind me how much I like Star Trek, but rarely does it actually have the quality of the material it is honoring.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.