'Come as You Are': Film Review

Come As You Are - Publicity - Group Still - H 2020
Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Less outrageous than its taboo-tweaking premise might suggest.

Three disabled men take a road trip to lose their virginity in Richard Wong's adaptation of a 2011 Belgian film.

A comic road movie dedicated to the belief that sex is an experience that should be available to all humans — those who can pay, anyway — Richard Wong's Come as You Are finds three Americans with disabilities taking a long drive north to a Canadian brothel designed to cater to them. Inspired by the true exploits of Asta Philpot, whose advocacy along these lines has been the subject of both a doc and the 2011 Belgian feature Hasta La Vista, the genial pic may attract some criticism for casting able-bodied thesps in its leads. But its script's approach to disability steers clear of some common cinematic pitfalls, and, whatever its flaws, it has a fine time making points that will be obvious to most in the audience.

Grant Rosenmeyer stars as Scotty, a quadriplegic whose plight is made clear in the opening scene: Having just awakened from a vivid dream about his female physical therapist, he must let his mother (Janeane Garofalo) lift him out of bed and bathe him while ignoring his erection.

Scotty, an aspiring but not fantastically talented rapper, is fairly uncouth and is grouchy when a good-looking new paraplegic patient named Matt (Hayden Szeto) takes his prized physical therapy slot. But he sees his rival as a potential ally when a stranger tells Scotty about Le Chateau Paradis, a brothel in Montreal founded by a disabled man. The wheelchair-accessible facility is staffed by beautiful sex workers who have nothing against showing special-needs clients a good time.

Around this point in the film, cinephiles may recall another indie or two dealing with similar issues: In Ben Lewin's The Sessions, John Hawkes played an iron-lung patient who hired a sex therapist (Helen Hunt), only to fall in love with her. Come as You Are is an altogether different kind of film: Here, sex is not a realistic complicating factor; it's a holy grail, driving light comedy forward.

Scotty and Matt set their differences aside, needing to pool their money to hire a van and driver. With the legally blind Mo (Ravi Patel), they hire Sam (Gabourey Sidibe) as their driver/assistant without telling her what the trip is about. The two wheelchair-bound men both sneak off without their parents' knowledge, prompting a minor manhunt that will enliven parts of the film's second act.

Erik Linthorst's script isn't afraid to use disabilities to introduce the occasional narrative hurdle or bit of physical comedy (yes, the three men do eventually attempt to drive that van by themselves), but the riffs never feel exploitative or mawkish. Wong and Rosenmeyer clearly sympathize with Scotty but aren't shy about showing his ugly side; it's clear early on that his personality is as big an obstacle as his wheelchair to Scotty's erotic goals. (Matt and Mo, both much better with people, have more complicated reasons for going on the trip.)

Come as You Are hits most of the familiar road-movie beats, and telegraphs its surprises pretty shamelessly. It's not the most subtle disability comedy you've seen, nor is it at all concerned with exploring the ethical issues surrounding sex work. But its lightness is a virtue in the film's rare sentimental moments, which might've been too corny to bear in other contexts.

Production company: Chicago Media Angels
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel, Gabourey Sidibe, Janeane Garofalo, C.S. Lee, Jennifer Jelsema
Director-Director of photography-Editor: Richard Wong
Screenwriter: Erik Linthorst
Producers: Jacqueline E. Ingram, Grant Rosenmeyer, Barrett Stuart
Production designer: Amy Frazzini
Costume designer: Vivian Pavlos
Composer: Jeremy Turner
Casting directors: Mickie Paskal, Jennifer Rudnicke

107 minutes