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SXSW Film Review: ‘Come as You Are’

Three disabled men go on a road trip to lose their virginity at a special-needs bordello in this ingratiating remake of a Belgian film.

Come as You Are review
Courtesy SXSW

The rare remake that’s actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, Richard Wong’s “Come as You Are” translates Geoffrey Enthoven’s 2011 Belgian “Hasta la Vista” to middle America. Other changes are less substantial, but this seriocomedy has a less formulaic feel than the original while remaining a crowd-pleasing buddy pic-caper with a soft-pedaled minority empowerment theme. Reception in real-world disabled communities may be somewhat muted by the casting of able-bodied actors in the lead roles. Nonetheless, it’s hard to entirely resist this loosely fact-inspired tale of three physically challenged men road-tripping to Montreal in order to lose their virginity at a “special needs” bordello.

Sticking close in outline to the earlier screenplay by Mariano VanHoof and Pierre de Clercq, Erik Linthorst’s script centers on a trio of protagonists all stuck living with their parents in adulthood. Paraplegic Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer, also a producer here), whose congenital defect makes him particularly dependent on doting but somewhat invasive mom Liz (a bright turn by Janeane Garofalo), is particularly resentful about the lot life has handed him.

He’s often hostile, childish and rude. Those qualities present themselves in full force when the physical therapy center he frequents gets a new client in handsome young Matt (Hayden Szeto), who for obvious reasons Scotty disparagingly dubs Biceps. Until recently an athlete, Matt is now confined to a wheelchair due to an unspecified degenerative condition. But he still has use of his arms, and that, combined with his getting assigned to the prettiest physical therapist, is enough to earn covetous Scotty’s immediate ire.

Despite the adversarial beginning, Scotty soon realizes he has a use for the new guy. He’s found out about a brothel across the Canadian border that caters to the needs of the disabled, and is instantly fixated on getting there — because at age 24, Scotty is still a virgin, and horny as a goat. Matt is dubious at first about joining any such expedition, particularly with this obnoxious frenemy. But chafing under the overprotection of his own family members (C.S. Lee and Jennifer Jelsema play Matt’s parents, Martha Kuwahara his little sister), he decides he too needs to get the hell out of Dodge. The third man in the group is 35-year-old Mo (Ravi Patel), a blind worker at the clinic, and an innately cautious, non-boat-rocking personality. But they need him along to share costs, and besides, he’s a virgin who dreams of no longer being one as well, so peer pressure ultimately prevails.

The rental-van driver and nurse/assistant they hire for the trip turns out to be not the man they expected but a no-nonsense woman (Sam, played by Gabourey Sidibie) who quickly locks horns with Scotty. She also has her patience tested when she discovers that the trio has embarked on this field trip without informing any of their helicoptering parents, some of whom soon take off in frantic pursuit of the “fugitives.” But the speed bumps soon get smoothed over, and indeed Sam develops a certain romantic frisson en route with the gentlemanly Mo.

While the goal is, as Scotty puts it, “getting knobs polished by French-Canadian goddesses,” “Come as You Are” is primarily a road movie, with the getting-there filled with brisk, mostly comic incident. There’s some slapstick (notably scenes including blind driving and a Chicago bar fight), and occasionally some over-insistent scatological humor. But in general, the film hews to an appealingly warm, character-based playfulness. When our protagonists do get to their destination, Wong and Linthorst emphasize vulnerability and discretion rather than raunch, making the wish-fulfillment poignant in its ordinariness. In fact, the movie has so downplayed the ribaldry by the end that it seems a bit of a mistake to turn a late funeral sequence into a showcase for Scotty’s (hitherto funny) expletive-riddled rapping.

Otherwise, “Come as You Are” is very much in control of itself, tonally and otherwise. Also functioning as cinematographer and editor, director Wong is an un-showy but confident stylist who sometimes taps the knack for scene-shaping and pacing he demonstrated in sleeper directorial debut “Colma: The Musical” and 2008’s little-seen “Option 3.” The leads all contribute nuanced turns in roles that might have wound up as one-note caricatures in less careful hands, while Sidibe and the parents are also fine. There’s a relaxed yet energetic comic rapport between players that suggests a good time was had by all.

Presumably shot on location across eight states from Colorado to Quebec, “Come as You Are” is flavorful in all production aspects. Wong (who as a DP has more often shot projects by others) lends variety, rhythm and non-travelogue handsomeness to the widescreen imagery. The final credits feature footage of disabled-rights activist Asta Philpott being interviewed on TV and briefly relating his experiences, which have inspired two fiction films so far.

SXSW Film Review: ‘Come as You Are’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 14, 2019. (In SXSW — Narrative Spotlight.) Running time: 107 MIN.

  • Production: A Chicago Media Angels, Meridian Entertainment, The Black List presentation in association with Florida Hill and BS Prods. (International sales: UTA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Grant Rosenmeyer, Barrett Stuart, JJ Ingram. Executive producers: Kelly Waller, Ted Reilly, Mark Glassgow, Franklin Leonard, Jennifer Dong, Emma Shan Wang, Jo Daris, Geoffrey Enthoven, Mariano VanHoof, John Baca, Hans Canosa. Co-producer: Olivia Mascheroni.
  • Crew: Director, editor: Richard Wong. Screenplay: Erik Linthorst, based on the film “Hasta la Vista” written by Mariano VanHoof, Pierre de Clercq, inspired by the life of Asta Philpot. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Wong. Music: Jeremy Turner.
  • With: Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel, Gabourey Sidibe, Janeane Garofalo, C.S. Lee, Jennifer Jelsema, Martha Kuwahara, Delaney Feener, Kari Perdue, Michael Waller, Netta Walker, Christian Litke, Marika Engelhardt, Sophie Hoyt, Christine Vrem-Ydstie.
  • Music By: