×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Keep the Change’

Two autistic adults strike up an unlikely and transformative relationship in Rachel Israel’s charming romantic comedy.

With:
Brandon Polansky, Samantha Elisofon, Nicky Gottlieb, Will Deaver, Jessica Walter, Tibor Feldman.

Being different isn’t a hindrance to also being just like everyone else in “Keep the Change” — a lesson that David (Brandon Polansky), a grown man with autism, finds difficult to accept throughout the course of this empathetic romantic comedy. Charting David’s budding romance with Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), writer-director Rachel Israel’s film embraces its characters’ uniqueness while using a standard-issue genre template to underscore that, beyond their issues, they’re a familiar pair. Winner of the best narrative feature and best new narrative director prizes at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it’s an ode to self-discovery and acceptance that’s as funny as it is sweet.

As court-mandated punishment for making one of his trademark inappropriate jokes to a police officer, 30-year-old David is ordered to attend Connections, an NYC organization for autistic men and women. Wearing a blazer and dark sunglasses, David feels out of place in this community of strangers, whose habit of blurting out exclamations and dancing in stilted ways strikes him as proof that, unlike him, they’re “weirdos.” That David has a tendency to expel strange sneeze-wail-groans whenever he’s nervous is, of course, an early indication that he’s tricking himself into believing he’s somehow superior — and that’s not even factoring in his general social awkwardness, which manifests itself on a date with a woman who’s immediately repulsed by his tactless cracks about Kobe Bryant and rape.

Things take an unexpected turn for David when he’s forced to work on a Brooklyn Bridge project with fellow Connections member Sarah, who claims that she has autism and a “learning disability,” and who’s prone to expressing herself via streams of colloquialisms. David’s aggravation turns to amorousness, however, after he and Sarah spend time together, and she confesses that she finds him “really smoking hot and so sexy.” Love soon blossoms via clumsy bear-hug kisses and bedroom sex. However, their budding relationship isn’t without its ups and downs, whether thanks to their individual quirks — at Coney Island, Sarah refuses to walk on sand; at an Italian restaurant, David orders with abandon — or courtesy of the disapproving reaction to this coupling of David’s wealthy father (Tibor Feldman) and mother (Jessica Walter), the latter of whom thinks Sarah too “brain damaged” to be a good fit for her son.

“Keep the Change” details David and Sarah’s affair with a kindness that doesn’t prevent it from generating comedy from their conditions, which often lead them to say inapt or peculiar things at random moments (such as David talking about his “hobophobia”). The film doesn’t mock their idiosyncrasies; it celebrates them in all their (often funny) forms. That extends to the raft of acquaintances David meets while at Connections, who in most cases are (like David and Sarah) played by autistic amateur actors who are all the more charming for being so unaffected.

That naturalness can also be felt in Israel’s on-location Manhattan camerawork (courtesy of cinematographer Zachary Halberd), in Amie Doherty’s cheery score, and in the leads’ winning turns. Uninhibited and yet often innocent and unaware, Elisofon is an endearingly off-kilter presence, while Polansky captures a moving sense of David’s desire to be “normal” (something at least partially acquired from his parents) and his simultaneous yearning to be understood and accepted, warts and all. In a nasty supporting role, Walter is typically great as a mother who frets for her son’s future but whose condescending meanness toward him (born from anger over his oddness) threatens to undermine his chances of achieving happiness.

The narrative conventionality in “Keep the Change” is itself a subtle political statement about autism. Yet Israel’s crowd-pleaser is anything but a polemic; rather, like the bond shared by David and Sarah, it’s at once totally normal and perfectly weird.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘Keep the Change’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., May 1, 2017. (In Tribeca Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Tangerine Entertainment presentation in association with Story Farm & Salem Street Entertainment. (International sales: Salem Street Entertainment, New York.) Producers: Summer Shelton, Todd Remis, Kurt Enger. Executive producers: Anne Hubbell, Amy Hobby, Laura Staich, Phillip Reudi. Co-producers: Rob Cristiano, Ryan Cunningham.

Crew: Director, writer: Rachel Israel. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Zachary Halberd. Editor: Alex Camilleri. Music: Amie Doherty.

With: Brandon Polansky, Samantha Elisofon, Nicky Gottlieb, Will Deaver, Jessica Walter, Tibor Feldman.

More Film

  • Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films

    Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films With a Big Stress on the Word 'Art'

    The 18th edition of the Marrakech Film Festival (Nov. 29-Dec. 7) – one of the leading cultural events in the Africa and Middle East region – will screen 98 films from 34 countries. The fest is also reinforcing its industry presence this year through the second edition of the Atlas Workshops, sponsored by Netflix, which [...]

  • Emma Stone Brad Pitt Damien Chazelle

    Paramount Lands Damien Chazelle's 'Babylon,' Dates It for Christmas 2021

    Paramount Pictures has landed the worldwide rights to Damien Chazelle’s next feature film “Babylon,” sources tell Variety. Insiders add the studio has dated the film for a Dec. 25, 2021 limited release, with plans to go wide on Jan. 7. The release date puts in prime position for another awards season run for Chazelle, who [...]

  • Chris Pratt

    Chris Pratt's Sci-Fi Film 'The Tomorrow War' Gets Release Date

    Chris Pratt’s upcoming sci-fi actioner, which was recently retitled “The Tomorrow War,” has set a Christmas Day 2020 release date. The Paramount film was formerly titled “Ghost Draft.” It follows a man (played by Pratt) who is drafted to fight a future war in which the fate of humanity may rely on his ability to [...]

  • Kim Dong-Ho of GIFF Chairman of

    Inaugural Gangneung Film Festival Pays Tribute to Pierre Rissient

    The opening ceremony of the first edition of the Gangneung International Film Festival was dominated by a tribute to the French film scout and festival selector Pierre Rissient, who died in May 2018. The new festival, 240 km from Seoul, counts former Busan festival co-founder Kim Dong-ho as its chairman and former Bucheon festival head [...]

  • 'Waves': Sterling K. Brown and Trey

    'Waves' Cast Reflects on the Making of the Tragic Family Drama

    “Waves,” a partially autobiographical film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a visually arresting look at the fraying of an upper-middle class black family in South Florida in the aftermath of a violent tragedy. It examines themes of grief, domestic violence, substance abuse and modern-day pressures on kids to succeed. “Propelled by color, [...]

  • Gaston Pavlovich

    Gaston Pavlovich Talks About Producing 'The Irishman'

    Through his production company Fabrica De Cine, Gastón Pavlovich is one of the producers on Martin Scorsese’s two most recent movies: 2016’s “Silence” and 2019’s “The Irishman.” The 51-year-old native of Mexico first gained notice as an executive producer on the Tom Hanks comedy-drama “A Hologram for the King.” Pavlovich also began working with Scorsese [...]

  • Joker

    How 'Joker' Production Designer and Costume Designer Brought New Color to a Familiar World

    The partnership between a film’s production designer and costume designer is an important one. One creates the outfits and the look of the character, the other creates the world that the viewer disappears into. Together, they collaborate to reinforce the visuals of the film. Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is a world where production designer Mark Friedberg [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content