Though the blueprint behind Come As You Are is quite insultingly familiar – three sexually-charged men on a road trip that’s as heavy on situational humour as it is on their own self-discovery – director Richard Wong proves that appearances are indeed deceiving.
The core structures of the road-trip-comedy are in place, but Come As You Are‘s lead trio being persons with disabilities allows the film to adopt a more mature mentality without sacrificing its comedic notes. And whilst it’s easy to criticise the film for not hiring actors with actual disabilities for the roles, Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, and Ravi Patel all inject their characters with such honesty and heart that it’s difficult to fault them personally.
The road trip in question is a journey hatched by Scotty (Rosenmeyer, also serving as one of the film’s producers), a mid-20’s paraplegic, who’s growing increasingly frustrated with his non-existent sexual status; not helped by the fact that his mother (Janeane Garofalo, an absolute delight in a quietly powerful turn) has to tend to his every need. When he learns that there’s an establishment in Montreal that caters to disabled men in need of…shall we say, “services”, he ropes in the legally blind, and similarly virginal, Mo (Patel) and the wheelchair-bound Matt (Szeto) – the latter’s disabled reasoning peppering in much of the narrative’s drama – to split the cost of a van hire and a subsequent driver.
Given that Scotty and Matt are at odds with each other, and Mo’s emotional state often leads him to question much of the planned events, as well as the boys’ driver (Gabourey Sibide, absolutely lovely) harnessing a no-nonsense attitude, the trip isn’t going to be the smoothest journey. And though the film often offers up a few set-pieces that play into the genre – one sequence where they have to work together to drive the van without assistance is quite amusing – it never descends into the type of comedy that makes light of its characters or their circumstances.
Painting Scotty, Matt and Mo as men with their own sexual needs is one of Come As You Are‘s bravest decisions, normalising a desire that all human beings should be afforded, regardless of their physical stature. It speaks openly and honestly about this fulfilment, and in doing so it humanises these characters that so easily could have been degraded to stereotypes.
The film, for the most part, avoids unnecessary sentimentality (its ending is the only real twee temperament is adheres to), and in inviting us to experience both the joy and pain these characters encounter, it provides the jolt the road-trip-comedy model so desperately needs.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Come As You Are is available on VOD and digital platforms across the United States. An Australian release is still to be announced.