Wendy, (Dakota Fanning) an autistic young woman with a talent for writing, flees her San Francisco special needs facility and in the hopes of reaching Los Angeles in time to enter her script in a Star Trek contest for a one hundred thousand dollar grand prize. After the death of her mother, Wendy’s older sister Audrey (Alice Eve) placed her in this care facility when Wendy became too much to handle. Wendy is determined to win the one hundred thousand dollars so she will no longer have to rely on anyone to take care of her, and hopefully, rejoin her sister’s life.
With nothing but her script, her notepad, and her insanely adorable puppy accompanying her, she treks across California in the hopes of proving herself. Meanwhile, her caretaker Scottie (Toni Collette) and sister, dismayed, attempt to find her before she seriously hurts herself.
Adapted by Michael Golamco from his own short play, and directed by Ben Lewin, Please Stand By is fairly heavyhanded in its symbolism connecting the impaired Wendy writing about the emotionally stunted Spock. Despite its lack of subtlety, Please Stand By manages to be emotionally resonant and easy to watch. While the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it spins it effortlessly.
Please Stand By hits the usual beats of these feel-good road trip films. Wendy herself is what makes the film work. Wendy is such an easy character to root for. She’s spunky, naive, and full of heart. Dakota Fanning embodies all of these traits excellently in her performance. She allows us to greatly emphasize with her triumphs and heartbreaks, of which there are many.
Less successful in its execution is the film’s B-story, focusing on Scottie and Audrey as they desperately attempt to track her down. While both Toni Collette and Alice Eve turn in solid performances, their story never really “clicked” for me. I was never as engaged as I was in Wendy’s story. While rekindling her sisterly relationship with Audrey is one of the main motivations for Wendy entering the contest, the film didn’t do enough to make me care too much about their relationship.
Despite this issue, it’s only a B-plot, which doesn’t end up stealing too much of the film’s runtime. For the large majority of the time, Please Stand By proves to be a breezy and enjoyable heartwarming ride across a Californian highway, chock full of all sorts of Star Trek references for us nerds to get a kick out of, along with a short but supremely sweet Patton Oswalt cameo. Please Stand By won’t change your life, but it will put a big smile on your face, and sometimes that’s enough.