A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Please Stand By is a dramedy starring Dakota Fanning as Wendy, a young woman with autism who loves Star Trek so much that she embarks on a potentially dangerous trip for the chance to win a fan competition. Based on a play by Michael Golamco, the movie has occasional strong language (one "f--k," plus "s--t," "bitches," etc.), and a couple scenes of Wendy having an anxiety attack or having trouble coping with different situations. There's not a lot of violence, but Wendy does get robbed and ends up hospitalized after an accident. Viewers who have autism or have loved ones with autism will know more about whether Fanning's performance -- and the film itself -- are believable representations of individuals on the autism spectrum.
What's the story?
A film version of Michael Golamco's one-act play, PLEASE STAND BY is the story of 21-year-old Wendy (Dakota Fanning), a Star Trek fan with autism who lives in an assisted living residence for adults with varying needs. Wendy values routine and doesn't make eye or physical contact with others, but she's independent enough to work at the local mall's Cinnabon. In her free time, Wendy has written a 400-plus-page spec script for a Star Trek competition, but when the final day to get her manuscript in the mail takes a bad turn, she impulsively decides to take a road trip from the Bay Area to Los Angeles -- by herself, via public transportation. While Wendy is on her obstacle-filled journey to LA (accompanied by her faithful chihuahua, Pete), her group home's director, Scottie (Toni Collette), and Wendy's older sister, Audrey (Alice Eve), team up to find her.
Is it any good?
This mostly entertaining tribute to the power of fandom is bolstered by notable performances and should appeal to Star Trek die-hards and anyone who creates or consumes fan fiction. Wendy's encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek trivia, coupled with her determination to submit her manuscript, is enough to make Please Stand By an authentic depiction of a serious fangirl. What seems less certain, however, is how adequate the movie's portrayal of autism is, considering that Wendy checks off a few too many boxes from the clichéd "autism characteristics" checklist. The logic of some of her decisions is particularly confounding, since she values routine above all else and doesn't feel comfortable crossing a major thoroughfare. With that (large) caveat, once you suspend disbelief, it's easy to get sucked into Wendy's adventure and cheer for her to get the manuscript in on time.
As expected in a road trip movie, Wendy meets a few memorable characters along the way -- some who make a negative impact and some who make a positive one. Marla Gibbs pops up as a kind woman who accompanies Wendy to the bus after rescuing her from an unethical convenience store cashier. Collette is delightful as the supportive Scottie, who first utters the titular words to calm Wendy down during an episode of anxiety. Patton Oswalt also makes an appearance as a cop who speaks Klingon and therefore can really communicate with Wendy. Nothing in the plot is especially original, but you can't help but want Wendy to have her victory on behalf of anyone and everyone who's ever loved a TV show, movie, or book to the point of fully immersing themselves in that fictional universe.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of road trip journeys/adventures in movies and on television. What are some of your favorite road trip stories? How does Please Stand By compare?
Some disability activists feel it's a disservice to those with autism to see characters portrayed by neurotypical actors. What do you think?
Can you relate to Wendy's love of Star Trek? Are you a superfan of any show, movie, or books?
Do you think anyone in the movie is a role model? What are their character strengths?
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