Live Long and Move Forward: ‘Please Stand By’ offers a genuine look into life with autism

The best stories will always resonate with the audience, building a connection between fiction and reality. What marks good pop culture is the ability of the work to send out strands of form that tie the audience to what is occurring on the screen or page. Sometimes it’s a character that a person can see themselves in, or it might be a case of art imitating reality.

“Please Stand By” is one of those movies that captures the essence and struggles of a character so well that it becomes almost impossible to connect with the protagonist. The film follows Wendy (Dakota Fanning), a woman learning to live with autism and finds comfort in reruns of “Star Trek.” She feels a connection to the half-vulcan Spock, who praises logic above all else and has difficulties with emotion.

After being prompted to submit a script for a “Star Trek” writing contest, Wendy becomes obsessed with submitting the text. This has a deeper meaning, signalling that she can leave the group home she is living in, and when she wins the prize money, can buy the house her sister Audrey (Alice Eve) is selling. In Wendy’s mind, this will prove to Audrey she is responsible and ready to take care of herself, and they can become a family again.

When Wendy verbalizes this to her sister, Audrey quickly shuts it down, and the rejection triggers an episode. Wendy hits Audrey and then runs out of the home, traumatized by the visit to the home. This causes Wendy’s script to become impossible to mail, and with a strong resolve, Wendy embarks on a quest to hand deliver it to Paramount Studios. Her trek takes her across state lines, from Arizona to California.

The most effective technique the film employs is a crosscutting between Wendy’s normal life, and a representation of her script. Right away, the voice over reading the script, ties the thematic search for purpose of the movie with Wendy’s script, in which Spock is forced to leave behind his best friend in order to save the world. The narrative parallel of Wendy and Spock realizing that sometimes personal sacrifices have to be made for the good of others is an inspiring way to show how pop culture reflects the lessons people learn in life.

Throughout the film, Wendy is shown to develop by the bonds she’s made because of her script. Sam (River Alexander), the son of Wendy’s caretaker Scottie (Toni Collette), realizes the connection between Wendy and Spock. On the other hand, a Los Angeles police officer (Patton Oswalt) who speaks fluent Klingon, is surprised by the brilliance of Wendy’s script.

The journey that Wendy goes through does an excellent job at representing what it is like to live with autism. The director manages to use visual cues and sound design to highlight the sensory overload that Wendy is afflicted with. Everything from a motorcycle to dogs barking set off a reaction in Wendy, and her moment to shine comes when she is able to carry past them with breaking down.

“Please Stand By” is a film that perfectly captures that ways in which pop culture gives and takes from its audience, and how stories can influence reality. The movie uses intense visuals and a poetic voice over to muse over the question of what happens when something doesn’t a place in the universe. That is a notion that everyone can relate to, trying to find where we belong.