Please Stand By Blu-ray Review: Truly Tedious

I could make a number of bad Star Trek references and puns throughout this review, but others have already done so. Please Stand By does that, too. Yes, it’s quite obvious that it was going to make numerous mentions to the show based on the premise of the film (and play on which it is based). That’s totally fine and acceptable. I can dig it when a movie or television show uses nostalgia as a tool and does it well. What I absolutely hate is when some form of medium does it so lazily by simply name-dropping as a way that someone (or a bunch of people) will say, “Hey, I know that reference.” I’m looking at you, Ready Player One. The book more so than the movie adaptation.

Please Stand By falls into the latter category. How so? Well, for one, its tagline is ”Boldly Go,” a nod to the franchise’s slogan. OK, that’s obvious, and it kind of does fit with the film’s plot. But then other moments are more painfully noticeable. Toni Collette’s character is named Scottie, and there are two moments in which she forcefully delivers the term “fascinating.” She then later admits that she doesn’t know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, which is supposed to be played for laughs, but it’s a joke that has been done to death at this point.

It’s as if Ben Lewin and Michael Golamco went for the more obvious and easy ways to lure Star Trek fans into a movie about an autistic woman named Wendy (Dakota Fanning), who writes a 500-page script for a Star Trek screenplay contest. She misses the date to mail it in before the deadline, so she travels from San Francisco to Los Angeles to submit her entry in person. And just like every other road-trip movie, she meets a bunch of other quirky characters along the way that the viewer barely gets to know.

Speaking of obvious Star Trek references, who do they get to play Wendy’s sister? Why, Alice Eve, of course, from Star Trek Into Darkness. She just gave birth to her first child, but she is afraid of how Wendy will react. So, Wendy gets the occasional picture of her new niece here and there, but has yet to meet her in person.

Most of the references are surface-level material that even the most casual Star Trek fans will get, but Lewin and Golamco do devote one scene to the hardcore fans. That scene consists of Wendy being asked a series of tough questions that truly hardcore fans would know, and one of her friends puts money on her to show up these two other snobs.

In addition to getting all the cheap references for the Star Trek fans out there, Please Stand By doesn’t bring anything new to the table for characters with developmental disabilities. Wendy’s autism is, at first, shown to be a challenge for those involved. In order to calm her down, Scottie has to approach her and do a strange, closed-off version of a hug without touching her and repeat the phrase, “Please stand by,” numerous times until Wendy returns to normal.

Once Wendy leaves San Francisco, Please Stand By becomes more of an overly quirky indie comedy about someone with autism, and all the tics are supposed to be ways to get some kind of laugh out of the audience, or to make them feel some kind of affection for the character. It becomes way too mawkish the more it progresses, and it gets worse as the movie nears its end when Patton Oswalt comes in as a police officer fluent in Klingon.

The Blu-ray for Please Stand By comes presented with a 2:40:1 aspect ratio and a 1080p, 16×9 widescreen format presentation. The master audio is an English, 5.1 DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in both English and Spanish. The special features are scarce, with only a making of feature and a few deleted scenes that are standard EPK fare. In addition, the disc comes with the film’s original trailer and other trailers from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Please Stand By spends too much time on trying to be this cutesy, indie dramedy that it forgets to connect the viewer to its characters. Most of the people Wendy meets or with whom she associates are never fleshed out; they’re just mere caricatures. The references to Star Trek are meant as only to be cheap tricks, and its portrayal of autism is stereotypical. Fanning is committed to her performance. It’s just a shame she didn’t have better material to go along with it.

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David Wangberg

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