Three young special-needs men go on a road trip to lose their virginity in Belgian helmer Geoffrey Enthoven’s “Come as You Are,” a likable if somewhat formulaic-feeling seriocomedy loosely inspired by Asta Philpot, the U.S.-born Brit advocate for handicapped persons’ sexuality. A Montreal fest hit — pic won the Grand Prize of the Americas and the audience award, and shared the Fipresci ecumenical prize — it may fall between mainstream and arthouse brackets in some territories. But it could prove a sleeper if given a chance by distribs, who would do well to use the pic’s superior original title, “Hasta la vista.”
The protags are friends in a well-heeled suburb, brought together (and isolated from other peers) by their different disabilities. Genial Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is almost completely blind. Often childishly petulant prankster Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is a paraplegic. Likewise wheelchair-bound, Lars (Gilles De Schryver) has a degenerative terminal illness that is causing paralysis and occasional fits. All still live with their parents, from whom they require considerable assistance. But dreams of independence take flight when Philip hears about a Spanish brothel catering to people “like us.” He announces they must go there on vacation, alone — well, aside from a hired caretaker.
Their families are not at all excited about this idea, though they reluctantly agree once a reassuringly experienced van driver/nurse is recruited. All plans are scotched, however, when Lars’ prognosis takes a turn for the worse. Without much time left, he determines he’ll live it to the hilt — so the threesome sneak away on their trip after all, parental concern be damned.
With the first nurse/driver having declined the job, the three are stuck with a seemingly far less desirable chaperone: Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh), a gruff, heavyset woman who speaks only French. They resent her presence at first; Philip is particularly rude, as is his wont. But after she saves the day in an emergency or two, the collective mood lightens. Slapstick mishaps happen, life lessons are duly learned, tragedy is confronted and so forth.
Fictitiously elaborating on Philpot’s real-life trips to a wheelchair-accessible Spanish brothel and his advocacy of prostitution as one sexual-expression option for the disabled, Pierre De Clercq’s episodic script runs a familiar gamut from laughter to tears. But it’s never condescending, and Enthoven’s assured direction likewise resists overplaying the obvious emotional cues.
Perfs are fine, with de Hertogh’s gradual thaw endearingly understated. Production values are slick.