In 2006 a Leeds-based American man called Asta Philpot visited a brothel while on holiday in Spain. He got laid. Nothing unusual there, except Asta was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that means he could barely move.
Having enjoyed himself and suddenly realising that he didn’t necessarily have to live the sort of chaste life that seems to be a disabled man’s lot, Philpot decided to organise a trip back to Spain with two friends, one legally blind, one paralysed after an accident, for more of the same. The BBC went along for the, er, ride, and turned the trip into a documentary, For One Night Only.
This formed the basis of a Belgian comedy originally called Hasta La Vista, aka Come As You Are. And now there’s this: an American film also called Come As You Are, about three guys – one with barely any movement below the neck, one paralysed from the waist down after an accident, the third legally blind.
If the characters are fairly true to the originals, the action’s been shifted to the USA and, Spain being a bit of a trek, the equal-opportunities brothel (slogan: “come as you are”) is now up in Montreal, where the French influence means a whorehouse is more likely to be a chi-chi place done up in fin-de-siecle style rather than a sweaty grip tacked on to the back of a lapdancing club.
Given that their conditions mean the three man are cared for by loving parents who’d be horrified at the sex-for-cash equation, doing a bunk is the answer and soon a road-trip movie is underway, with the three oddballs – barely friends until the trip is organised – and their two wheelchairs, luggage etc in a van and heading north to the fleshpots of Canada.
None of them can drive and so, along with the van comes a driver (played by Gabourey Sidibe), a woman with a very low threshold for bullshit and with a disability of her own, albeit an invisible one – diabetes.
This could all be incredibly worthy, with talk of rights for disabled people and much justification of paying for sex, the exploitation of sex workers etc. But much like Philpot himself in YouTube interviews, all that is brushed to one side in breezy fashion in a film that basically says “why the hell shouldn’t they” and then gets on with being funny.
This starts from the get-go, with the Philpot avatar Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer) waking up at home in bed with an erection and his mother (Janeane Garofalo) in very matter of fact fashion, and chirruping the entire time (she never stops talking), hauling the covers off him before transporting him to the bathroom where the washing of Scotty’s privates also get the comedic treatment.
What Scotty, Matt (Hayden Szeto) and Mo (Ravi Patel) can and cannot do is the source of the laughs – almost-blind Mo cannot, for instance, drive the van, even with Matt shouting out instructions and shifting the gears.
They’re a well balanced trio: Scotty, the bright-spark motormouth with a penchant for rapping his thoughts, Mo the 35-year-old virgin who calls this road trip a field trip because he’s a bit of a wuss, and handsome Matt, closest to a well-balanced disposition.
We probably didn’t need to meet Matt’s girlfriend early on and later the subplot about the parents giving chase once they realise what’s afoot, or achair, could be removed without harming the film much. This film is at its best in the van and on the road.
None of the actors is disabled (in the way their characters are) and this is probably an issue for some people – surely there are disabled actors out there who could do with the gig? – but Twitter seems cool with it. Maybe the comedy genre just isn’t seen as issue-y enough. But issues there are here aplenty, in particular the way disabled people are infantilised by those around them, including their loved ones.
Writer Erik Linthorst’s light touch, director Richard Wong’s screwball zip and the breezy playing by all four (Sidibe becomes an increasingly vital part of the combo and is a real asset to the film) is enough to bounce the film over a feelgood/feelbad/feelgood ending which at first feels bizarre but in retrospect makes a lot of sense.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020