Review: Dakota Fanning Lives Long and Prospers in ‘Please Stand By’

The indie drama Please Stand By takes an unique and somewhat refreshing look at autism and gives Dakota Fanning a much-deserved time to shine like we know she can.

Fanning has always impressed me, especially when she was on fire as a child actress in films like I Am Sam, Hounddog and War of the Worlds – even in her sillier movies like Uptown Girls and Dr. Suess’ The Cat in the Hat and Push. But as she got older, she lost her footing a bit. It’s like she was cursed by appearing in the Twilight movies (even if it was just for a brief moment). Fanning couldn’t quite find the right vehicle and starred in a series of indie films that just petered out. Then there’s her sister, Elle Fanning, who has overshadowed her in many ways.

It looks like Dakota might be back on tracking, though, starring in the well-received TNT series The Alienist, the upcoming Ocean’s 8 and now Please Stand By, in which she plays a young autistic woman named Wendy who learns to cope with the world by relating it to her one main constant in her life, Star Trek. Her obsession with the show and its lore makes Wendy a savant in all things Star Trek, and the character she relates to the most is, of course, Spock — the only one who is unable to show emotions, even when and if he has them.

Set in San Francisco, Wendy lives in a group home after her older sister, Audrey (Alice Eve), can no longer care for her because she is starting her own family. Run by the oh-so-patient Scottie (Toni Collette) – a name that is surely not lost on Wendy – the young woman mostly thrives as Scottie provides a very even-keeled and steady environment for her autistic charge, complete with the same daily routines, a job at the local mall and ample time to do what Wendy loves most: Writing a spec script for a Paramount Studios Star Trek contest.

Wendy has it all planned out how she will submit her 400+ page script to Paramount and win the chance to be part of the world she so desperately clings to. Except when the deadline looms and it looks like Wendy won’t get the script in the mail on time, she makes the move to boldly go where she’s never gone before; she embarks on a life-changing journey to Los Angeles by herself (and her dog, Pete) to submit the script in person, as Scottie and Audrey race to find her.

Directed by Ben Lewin (The Sessions) and written by Michael Golamco, the movie flows as it should and doesn’t try to overextend, but it is entirely driven by Fanning’s performance, and she’s quite compelling. There have been other stellar movies that have highlighted autism, and many great performances from actors tackling the challenges in a realistic way. Claire Danes in Temple Grandin is one my personal favorites. Now, Fanning joins this list because she taps into how to simplify the performance, rather than try to go over the top (kinda looking at you, Rain Man‘s Dustin Hoffman). The fear and anxiety Wendy must overcome to pursue her dream splashes across Fanning’s face, especially when Wendy recites her mantra, “Please stand by,” over and over to help her calm down. Oh, and Pete the dog is to die for. They really should have separate awards for movie animals.

Both Collette and Eve also do a wonderful job as the people who know and love Wendy best, especially Eve. As Audrey, the actress aptly portrays the frustration and pain at leaving her sister in someone else’s care because she’s afraid Wendy might harm her new baby, without realizing how important and restorative family really is to Wendy. Patton Oswalt makes a nice cameo as an L.A. cop who gains Wendy’s trust by speaking Klingon with her. Any hardcore Trekkie is going to love that moment.

Please Stand By touched me in ways I did not expect – in connecting with family in whatever form than may take, and in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles in pursuing one’s dream. The added bonus is for Star Trek fans, particularly the desire to write an epic script that connects Spock to Deep Space Nine. I mean, how cool is that?

Written by
Kit Bowen has turned her extraordinary passion for all things entertainment into a long and varied career. For over 15 years, Kit has been an online entertainment journalist, reporter and film critic. On the whole, Kit just thinks of herself as a walking IMDb, is defined by how many times she's seen Jaws and will give you her theory on how Game of Thrones will end.

Your Rating

1 0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.