What it's about: David is a New York bachelor from a wealthy family functionally living with autism. He enjoys dirty jokes, crawling through online dating profiles looking for a match, and living the good life. When one of his dirty jokes gets him into a bit of trouble with a police officer, he is mandated to spend time in a community center program for adults with autism. His "too cool for school" attitude immediately causes problems, his unwillingness to believe that he could benefit from social training creates strife with others in the community. Then he meets Sarah, a young woman with a completely opposite outlook on life. She's positive, curious about others, open to different experiences, and she naturally begins to chip away at David's pretentiousness. But just as David begins to fall for Sarah, his crudeness and self-consciousness rear up, putting their new relationship in jeopardy.
Unorganized thoughts [New Father Edition]:
Keep the Change is a unique romantic comedy in the shell of a very established New York set subset of the genre. Setting the story around a group of people with autism could have been a gimmick, but writer-director Rachel Israel uses the signifiers of the Woody Allen-esque NYC rom-com to ground the film. The characters, despite having autism, feel like they belong in this world. Keep the Change grows, then, from being a rom-com about characters with autism to just a rom-com about characters. It is a beautifully subtle shift.
What's more, Keep the Change establishes the sweet tone you might expect from the premise while never shying away from being incredibly dark in its humor and characters. This isn't a film with only the intentions of warming your heart. David is increasingly unlikeable without allowing him to be redeemed.
Samantha Elisofon as Sarah is the breakout star of the film. Her positive presence is absolutely infectious, a perfect counter-balance to the more cynical and darker protagonist. Even as Sarah is primarily shown through David's point-of-view, which can see her as annoying or too open, there is no doubt that she should be an influence on how David should see the world -- maybe not to her fullest extent, but at least in some aspects.
Keep the Change is also an assuredly adult romantic comedy. It is frank about sex and doubles down with how those without autism react [a similar reaction to what some viewers may have]. David's bad behavior toward women gets awkwardly uncomfortable on multiple occasions.
When David isn't in his own way, making things difficult on himself, Jessica Walter as his mother is the predominant villain of the piece. Is there a better actress to play an overbearing and unloving mother? She's not in Keep the Change much, but she is obviously well cast.
Keep the Change is wonderful way to address a well-worn genre. The story keeps the aspects of the genre that have made the genre great while introducing these tropes into a new community with a character perspective that isn't often seen in cinema, let alone the romantic comedy. In her feature debut, Rachel Israel shows that she understands narrative storytelling and with a unique voice to tell that story.