Tender and bracing, Please Stand By is an uplifting film about the determination of a young woman with autism so obsessed with Star Trek that she overcomes her biggest challenges to enter a $100,000 contest to write a new screenplay for the series. When she realizes it’s too late to meet the contest deadline by mail, she summons her courage and sets out to travel from San Francisco to Paramount (PARA) Pictures in Los Angeles to hand deliver it herself, with her little dog, a Chihuahua named Pete. Their perilous journey is fraught with obstacles and dangers that form the film’s trajectory. It’s a long haul, but Please Stand By, meticulously directed by Ben Lewin (The Sessions), chronicles the pitfalls, terrors and triumphs of the trip with heart-wrenching realism. It also touches the viewer with the subtle emotional wallop of a feather brushing against the heart.
PLEASE STAND BY ★★★
Wendy (Dakota Fanning) is a brilliant and resourceful woman trapped in the prison of her own mind. Whenever she flies into uncontrollable rages and tantrums, Scottie (Toni Collette), the teacher, supervisor and psychologist in the group home where she lives, repeatedly says the words “Please stand by” to calm her nerves. Those three words become a talisman to live by as Wendy manages to buy a bus ticket to Hollywood with her savings.
Frightened by noises, crossing a busy street on foot for the first time, threatened by strangers, taken advantage of, evicted from the bus and robbed of her money to get home, Wendy lands in a hospital in Bakersfield with a concussion, hotly pursued by Scottie and her Trekkie son and Wendy’s older sister Audrey (the excellent Alice Eve). We live through each of Wendy’s ordeals so intimately that when she loses more than 100 pages of her neatly typed, properly formatted 437-page script, it’s amazing what an impact it had on my nerves. By the time she finally reaches the Paramount mail room to hand deliver her screenplay personally, I was cheering.
This is a sweet confection that mercifully never gets treacly—part family adventure, part suspenseful nail-biter, and reassuringly life-affirming from start to finish, with fine ensemble work by a first-rate cast, including a lovely bit by Patton Oswalt as a Hollywood cop who restores Wendy’s lost sense of security by conversing fluently in Klingon. But the powerful thread that keeps Please Stand By focused is Dakota Fanning’s deep dedication to her role. Shy, brave, and finding strength in unexpected places, her struggle to hold her sanity in check against overwhelming odds is what makes her performance—and the film—so memorable.