Greetings again from the darkness. More attention is being paid these days to those on the spectrum, and it’s fascinating to see how the entertainment world deals with these folks. Writer/director Rachel Israel has developed her short story into her first feature length film with an unusually naturalistic approach by having numerous non-actors on the spectrum play key characters. Rather than observing from the outside, we are privileged to join in with how they handle life’s daily challenges.
Brandon Polansky is David, a self-proclaimed filmmaker who lives with his very wealthy parents (Jessica Walter, Tibor Feldman). We first meet David as he’s being dropped off at some type of support group meeting. His attendance is court-ordered as an alternative to jail after he was arrested for telling a pig joke to a cop. It’s pretty clear to us that David doesn’t subscribe to traditionally accepted social behavior, though he aims to be a cool guy while hiding behind sunglasses that mask his insecurities. He thrives on telling jokes, although he is unable to discern what is appropriate and what isn’t, learning the hard way that rape jokes aren’t proper for a first date.
The support group meetings leave us trying to figure out exactly how these folks got here … and why. Autism and other forms of personality disorders are part of each of the members, and yet we quickly come to understand the various traits of each person. Some are shy, while others are outgoing – and each is a distinct individual. David is initially annoyed by the enthusiasm and positivity offered by Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), but the two quickly form a relationship that is probably good for both of them, though quite different than what we usually see in a Romantic Comedy.
Ms. Israel films all around NYC, and some of the street scenes are terrific with a realism we don’t often see. These are outsiders and outcasts, and we soon come to appreciate the ebbs and flows of their community. The quirks that we all have are at a heightened level here. These may include sand on our feet, or the trauma of a merry-go-round. Social anxiety abounds, and David even admits to his parents that one of the reasons he likes Sarah is that they are both “weird”.
There is a blend of sweetness, sadness, and cruelty throughout and Mr. Polansky and Ms. Elisofon are a pleasure to watch. That is the life these folks live. They may be able to tell a funny Bernie Madoff joke, while not understanding that their “perfect pitch” is anything but. We do get to hear David’s joke, and he prefaces it with “I got in trouble for this one”. Understanding leads to acceptance, and though Ms. Israel’s film tells us “sometimes change happens for the worse”, it also shows us a bit of empathy goes a long way.