Stand Clear of the Closing Doors: Tribeca Review

Action takes a backseat to local color in well-acted drama.

An autistic boy spends days stuck in the subway in Sam Fleischner's New York-set film.

NEW YORK — A film whose plot would have been unthinkable 40 years ago, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors follows an autistic boy who, finding himself adrift in the New York subway, wanders the system round-the-clock for days with nothing threatening him but his own disorder. Fest auds may warm to the convincing working-class texture of Sam Fleischner's followup to Wah Do Dem, but they'll be especially appreciative here, enjoying the self-recognition offered in scores of well-observed train scenes. Production backstory involving Hurricane Sandy will help draw attention as well.

Living with his sister and mother on Rockaway Beach, Queens (Dad, an undocumented immigrant, works away from the city for months at a time), Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez, an untrained actor with Asberger's) is a handful without even trying: School workers have to sit with him at lunch to keep him eating; though he's a teen, his sister has to walk him home from school. When she skips a day to go shopping, the easily distracted boy winds up on a subway headed to Manhattan.

STORY: Tribeca: A New York Festival Kicks Off With a Dedication to Boston

What draws him into the train seems to be the sight of a man whose jacket is emblazoned with a dragon eating its own tail. Ricky, obsessed with circles and monsters, will see this image numerous times during his outing, and the film allows viewers to read it as either a piece of widely disseminated street art or a hallucination. The latter interpretation is more convincing -- the winged serpent, bubbling up from Ricky's psyche, standing in for the beasts faced by boys in myth who leave home to become heroes.

Ricky's adventure is less goal-driven, and less transformative. While his mother Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz) grows increasingly despondent at home, circulating flyers and hounding police in between working as housekeeper for a self-involved boss, Ricky largely sits and stares blankly while an ever-changing crew of fellow passengers ride alongside. The boy invents dialogue for passing feet while we focus on their owners -- the young woman clipping her boyfriend's fingernails; the parents idly bantering with kids; the others who use the MTA for something more than transportation. Ricky doesn't seem to want anything, which makes him an unconventional protagonist -- when he realizes he needs food more than a day into his absence, and doesn't have enough money for a bag of chips, that's about as dramatic as his experience gets.

Meanwhile, NYC is preparing for "Superstorm Sandy." The storm actually interrupted production, necessitating an on-the-fly rewrite of the ending, but the film is seamless enough one could imagine it happened the other way around -- that Fleischner went out and grabbed footage of the storm as it hit, then made a film that fit around it. Ricky's physical condition worsens as the commuters around him grow more distracted by the weather (and by Halloween, which affords more hallucinatory monsters), making it slightly more believable that not a single citizen, worried about the stench and disorientation of this young kid, brought him to the attention of a transit worker or cop.

Production Companies: SeeThink Films, m ss ng p eces

Cast: Andrea Suarez, Jesus Valez, Azul Rodriguez, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Director: Sam Fleischner

Screenwriters: Rose Lichter-Marck, Micah Bloomberg

Producers: Veronica Nickel, Andrew Neel, Dave Saltzman, Craig Shilowich

Executive producers: Greg Stewart, Henry Kasdon

Directors of photography: Adam Jandrup, Ethan Palmer

Production designer: Sara K. White

Editor: Talia Barrett

Sales: Linda Lichter, Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler

No rating, 106 minutes