What it's about: Wendy [Dakota Fanning] lives a comfortable and well-monitored life in a group home care facility for young people with autism and other mental illnesses. She has some independence, a job at Cinnabon and a cute dog. She has big dreams of becoming a writer, inspired by her favorite show Star Trek and a $100,000 fan script contest. With a finished script ready to go, Wendy must escape her comfortable life to travel on her own to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles to make the deadline. With a little help from kind strangers and the family desperately trying to find her, she may just make it in time.
Director Ben Lewin's last film, The Sessions, has a lot in common with Please Stand By. Both feature characters with disability who are trying to live something like a normal life. They both mean well but don't have much dramatic impact. They are slight and shiny.
Generally, I didn't feel much for Wendy, which is a problem that Please Stand By can't overcome. This isn't anything against the performance by Dakota Fanning, she is fine, but the character is too inscrutable. Thankfully, her autism isn't played as a shortcut or a joke -- it could have been much more offensive or abrasive. She's just too distant.
Her journey is filled with quirks, too, which doesn't help. I was surprised there wasn't more comedy in the film, everything is taken fairly seriously, but there are too many random encounters on the way to Los Angeles. The narrative is cliche, you can see the movie script behind the movie working like a middlebrow indie is supposed to.
The entire high concept set-up is pretty weak. This is apparently a world where email doesn't exist? In the end, the entire journey plot structure seems like an contrived excuse for stakes.
Unfortunately, the Star Trek connections are little more than allowing characters to show how hip or unhip they are by their knowledge of the property. There is even the inevitable joke where one character on the unhip side of the equation refers to it as Star Wars.
There is some service paid to why Wendy is so infatuated with Star Trek and Spock in particular. Being autistic, she connects with his difficult expressing human emotion. The concept is spelled out pretty explicitly, though, not letting the viewer come to this realization more naturally.
Sure, the dog is cute, but the film totally overuses it. The dog gets emotional reaction shots!
Being a middlebrow indie dramedy calls for a middlebrow indie dramedy cast and Please Stand By boasts a pretty decent one. Toni Collette serves as Wendy's primary caretaker and the character most invested in her disappearance -- the role plays to her motherly presence. Patton Oswalt shows up in an important cameo that capitalizes on his nerd cred. Tony Revolori and Jacob Wysocki have small roles, too.