January 14, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Richard Wong
Culture Representation: “Come as You Are” is a comedy about a racially diverse trio of middle-class disabled young men and their female driver who take a road trip from the U.S. to Canada, so the men can visit a brothel and lose their virginities.
Culture Clash: The men sometimes bicker amongst each other over how much they should tell people about their brothel plans, and they have overprotective parents who are against the trip.
Culture Audience: This movie will primarily appeal to viewers who like comedy films to strike a balance between raunchy humor and a story that has a lot of heart.
There have been plenty of comedies about road trips, but “Come as You Are” is truly a noteworthy gem not just because the main characters in the movie are disabled but also because it’s a genuinely funny ride that realistically portrays life’s ups and downs. Directed by Richard Wong and written by Erik Linthorst, the movie is a remake of the 2011 Belgian film “Come as You Are” which was originally titled “Hasta La Vista.” The movie is based on a true story, which is probably why even among some of the slapstick moments, most of the film’s emotional elements ring very true. The American filmmakers who did the “Come as You Are” remake consulted with American paraplegic Asta Philpot (who’s the inspiration for the movie), as well as the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab and the Wheelchair Athletes of McFetridge.
In the beginning of the film, viewers are introduced to the person who sets in motion the plans for the road trip. Scotty (played by Grant Rosenmeyer, who’s also one of the films producers) is a 24-year-old paraplegic virgin who lives with his overbearing single mother Liz (played by Janeane Garofalo) in Littleton, Colorado. Liz is the only caretaker for Scotty, and she’s aware but in denial that her son has sexual needs that aren’t being met. Scotty also cannot use his arms due to a congenital defect. And he’s frequently horny and frustrated because he has no prospects for a girlfriend or even a “friend with benefits.” It doesn’t help that Scotty is often abrasive and rude with people.
Scotty channels his angst into original rap songs that he secretly writes but is afraid to perform in front of anyone. He also spends time at a physical-therapy center, where he has a somewhat tense acquaintance with Mo (played by Ravi Patel), a 35-year-old who’s legally blind. Mo lives with his parents, who are also overprotective, but his parents are never seen in the movie. Scotty has a mild crush on his physical therapist Becky (played by Daisye Tutor), who is aware of Scotty’s crush but keeps things professional between them.
One day, a newcomer arrives at the center. His name is Matt (played by Hayden Szeto), a paraplegic in his 20s who can use his hands. Becky is assigned to work with Matt, and Scotty gets very jealous. Later at the therapy center, while watching a paraplegic baseball game, Scotty picks a fight with Matt and demands that Matt tell him that Becky is Scotty’s therapist. Matt, who is polite and doesn’t want a confrontation, agrees to Scotty’s demand, and the expression on Matt’s face says that he wonders if Scotty is mentally unstable.
During the baseball game, Scotty notices that one of the paraplegic baseball players is a middle-aged man who has a gorgeous young girlfriend who could pass for a model. Scotty watches in awe and then congratulates the man on being able to get someone that attractive as a girlfriend. The man then gives Scotty a business card and tells him to look up the business because it will change his life. The card is for a place in Montreal called Chateau Paradis. (In the Belgian “Come as You Are” movie, the disabled men visit a brothel in Spain.)
When Scotty gets home, he looks up Chateau Paradis on the Internet and he finds out that it’s a brothel, founded by a paraplegic (played by Philpot, in a cameo), that caters to the disabled and other people with special needs. Scotty immediately wants to go to the brothel, but he has three big problems: He can’t drive, he can’t afford to go on the trip by himself, and his mother would never allow him to go on the trip.
Scotty immediately hatches a plan to recruit other men from the therapy center to go on the trip with him. He knows that Mo is a virgin, and he figures that mild-mannered Matt might be a virgin too. (He is.) Mo and Matt are each reluctant to go on the trip at first. In fact, Matt flat-out refuses when Scotty asks him for the first time, because Matt has a girlfriend.
But when Matt catches his college-aged girlfriend heavily flirting with another student in a school library, he gets very upset, and she breaks up with him because she says she has to think about her future. It’s a short but heartbreaking moment that shows the harsh realities that disabled people often face when they’re in romantic relationships with able-bodied people, because at some point in the relationship (depending on how serious it is), the issues of how, if or when to raise a family will have to be addressed.
After the breakup with his girlfriend, Matt goes all-in on the road trip and decides he wants to lose his virginity at the brothel. He’s so eager to go that he tells Scotty that he wants to take the trip the following week. Because Scotty has a prickly relationship with Mo, Scotty enlists Matt to convince Mo to take the trip. Mo agrees because he’s always wanted to travel out of the area, but he has mixed feelings about going to the brothel.
Matt lives with his overprotective parents—Roger (played by C.S. Lee) and Maryanne (played by Jennifer Jelsema)—and his pre-teen younger sister Jamie (played by Martha Kuwahara). Although they are a loving family, Matt is feeling stifled by his parents’ unwillingness to let him do more things as an independent adult. (Not surprisingly, his parents refuse Matt’s request to go on a road trip.) Matt also has an unnamed medical condition that requires him to frequently take prescription pills.
Knowing that their parents would disapprove, it doesn’t take long for Scotty, Mo and Matt to go on the secretive trip by temporarily “running away” from home and by hiring a van service that can attend to people with disabilities. In one hilarious scene before they go on their excursion, Matt sends his little sister Jamie to a drugstore to secretly buy him supplies for the trip, including condoms. The look on the cashier’s face is priceless.
To the trio’s surprise, they find out that their van driver Sam is a woman, so they agree not to tell her the real reason for the road trip because they’re afraid of offending her. At first, Sam (played by Gabourey Sidibe) is abrupt and emotionally distant, but she eventually warms up to Mo, who is the most intellectually nerdy one of the group. However, Scotty (like he does with many people he encounters) quickly gets on Sam’s nerves, especially when he calls her “sweetheart,” and they get into some verbal spats in the beginning of the trip. Matt (as he often does in the story) plays peacemaker, and then Sam and Scotty come to an uneasy truce.
When Scotty’s mother and Matt’s parents find out that they’ve deliberately gone missing, the parents join forces to find Scotty and Matt. The story then becomes not just a road trip but also a chase movie, as the trio is in a race against time to get to the brothel before the parents catch up to them. Along the way, including stops in Nebraska and Chicago, a series of mishaps occur that won’t be revealed in this review. But it’s enough to say that Scotty’s mother has access to his email, so she’s found out where the guys are staying through an email confirmation sent by the motel. It increases the possibility that the parents will find the guys before they can get to the brothel.
Meanwhile, as Sam spends more time with her motley crew of passengers, she opens up about her past. Sam used to be a nurse, but she lost her nursing license because she illegally injected her ex-husband with insulin when she caught him cheating on her. Sam and Mo have a growing attraction to one another, which is sparked when Mo is able to describe Sam’s goldfinch tattoo on her arm, just by feeling the tattoo.
Sam eventually finds out about the men’s plans to visit the brothel, and she tells them that she’s actually relieved, because she thought that their secretive plans were more sinister, such as a suicide pact or smuggling drugs. During this unusual road trip, the four travelers learn more about each other and face bigotry issues and emotional challenges, which help them bond together in ways that they didn’t expect.
The entire cast of the movie does a terrific job, because it’s not easy to do a comedy where the characters could have been turned into over-the-top caricatures but instead come across as genuine human beings with full personalities and inner depth. It’s the kind of well-written, well-directed movie where viewers will wonder about some of the main characters’ histories as well as what might happen to them after the story ends.
Do they make it to the brothel? Do the parents catch up to them? Will Sam and Mo get together? You’ll have to see the movie to find out what happens. But along the way, you’ll have a raucous and fun ride with some very touching moments that might make some people shed a few tears. “Come as You Are” is the type of adult comedy that we need more of in this world, because it speaks to authentic and sometimes uncomfortable truths about life, in a way that can still make you laugh, even in the darkest moments.
Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Come as You Are” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.