I just finished watching Please Stand By. (Some vague spoilers, but no specifics.) I was surprised that this movie was already available for streaming on Amazon, but I guess they’re doing a limited release in theaters along with online. The streaming rent price was higher than usual.
Quick synopsis: autistic woman, Wendy, writes a script for a Star Trek writing contest and has to take it personally instead of mailing it because her sister is self centered and unsupportive. Despite this being advertised as a movie about an autistic woman, autism is never once mentioned in the film. There is “practice eye contact for 3 seconds” which pissed me off with it’s pointlessness, and a mini-meltdown scene that had me pausing at 22 minutes in and sobbing while my husband held me. Then I drank some alcohol to numb all the feelings and got through the rest of the movie. The trailer alone was stressful and the movie is equally stressful, but there are some breaks so you can calm down emotionally, so that’s good. There is a lot less resolution at the end of the movie than I think most people would have liked, but it did keep it realistic. The movie is labeled as a Comedy, but it’s not a “laugh at the autistic” comedy, but rather the Shakespearean definition where no one dies at the end. Not even the dog, which is good, and information that needs to be out there for pet lovers. The trailer did a good job not giving away all the good moments of the movie, and the best moment ever which was shown in part in the trailer was even more wonderful in the movie. Though you might need to be a Star Trek fan to fully appreciate it. Disclaimer, husband and I both enjoy the series, though the Klingon-English Dictionary and Phrase Book on the shelves is mine, not his.
I could not find any proof that any autistics were consulted in the making of this film, but neither can I find proof that they consulted Autism Speaks, so that’s something. They did employ autistic actors according to this linked tweet.
So, asking my standard questions: does it portray autism accurately, and does it help or harm the public understanding? First I need to ask a question I don’t know the answer to: are group houses really prisons in disguise? And was the main character a legal adult who has the right to make her own plans and make her own choices, or was she under the legal guardianship of her sister? Because they sure treated a person that was holding down a job like she had no agency or independence of her own. And that made me angry. Will it make neurotypical (NT) people watching it angry at the way she is treated, too? Or will it confirm their belief that autistics need to be controlled? Who really needed the rigid schedule: the autistic, even though it wasn’t the routine she wanted, or the group home manager to keep everyone under control so she could be in charge of all the adults without a back-up enforcer?
Did it portray autism accurately? In “home videos” shown in the movie they show happy-flapping as well as upset flapping and self harm. I was glad they showed it could be a happy thing, too. They also make the upset mini-meltdowns look like they’re coming out of nowhere/little provocation, rather than respecting that autistics have reasons for things. They showed that autistics can adapt and be resourceful outside of established routines: good. I will say that the portal by Dakota Fanning did not feel autistic to me, but that could be my own bias. I probably don’t seem/feel autistic to others I meet in life, so I can’t really judge. Maybe it was the lack of stimming by the character; I’m not sure.
Does it help or harm the public understanding? Pro: showing a female autistic instead of adding to the list of males. Pro: she’s different from Temple Grandin which is the most common exposure of people without an autistic relative to a female with autism. Maybe the NT world will finally get that being autistic doesn’t automatically mean thinking in pictures, which would be nice. I asked my local NT expert (my husband) and he can see both potential harm and help. Part of it is the High Functioning Trap: the character proved to be able to handle everything that came at her, so people may come to expect all autistics to be as “high functioning” as Wendy. But on the other hand he feels like the circumstances of the plot showed how the people who were limiting and dismissing her were wrong. I hope he’s right about that. He says there is an equal balance of realistic and ridiculous.
Overall, unless I’m missing something, it’s not a horrible movie. It’s not Oscar winning material, either. I’ll be interested to see if there is discussion that comes out of it out on the internet.