By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Come As You Are” is about three young men with physical disabilities. Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer) is a paraplegic, Matt (Hayden Szeto) has use of his arms but is also restricted to a wheelchair, and Mo (Ravi Patel) is partially blind—to the point where he has to use a magnifying glass to read and cannot drive a car. The three men are virgins—and are pretty determined to change this fact.
Spearheaded by Scotty, the three hire Sam (Gabourey Sidibe) as their driver and nurse, and embark on a roadtrip to visit a brothel that proclaims that they ‘come as they are.’
What ensues follows real archetypal bro-road trip movie notes. For instance, Scotty is threatened by new guy Matt because Matt is handsome, so Scotty bullies and is just a complete ass to Matt—until they start overcoming their personality differences and start becoming real friends over beer glasses that Matt has to hold up for Scotty to sip from. We get to watch really solid chemistry between the characters. We get to laugh over zippy and sometimes-harsh dialogue, stuff like, “Goddammit, Mom! How hard is it to aim for my mouth!” We see a clothed boner at one point. We also see boobs. If your mom is anything like my mom, she would probably hate this movie.
And that’s what makes it so great!
“Come As You Are” is inspired by a true story and also is a remake of the original 2011 Belgian film, “Hasta la Vista.” Like its predecessor, it makes the compelling decision to tell a mostly light-hearted romp of a story with disabled individuals as protagonists. It has this “Hangover” sensibility to it, but instead of boring-ass Bradley Cooper centering the movie, there is weight. There is Scotty, a wannabe misanthrope who is so caustic because he is lonely and doesn’t want to feel vulnerable emotionally because every day, he is reminded that his body is vulnerable. There is Matt, whose dodgy answers around his disability and his body creates this uneasy tension in us nearly the entire time we are watching him. And there is Mo, who is so sweet, so shy, and so skittish and scared of the world that it feels really rewarding to watch him gradually come out of his shell.
Easily with another crew and another creative team, this movie could have gone really sentimental and really hokey because oftentimes, disabled people in movies and on TV are portrayed as impossibly noble, impossibly asexual, and completely invisible. That is—they don’t often get to be fully fledged human beings. If they do get to be fleshed out human beings, then stories often revolve around the suffering that their disability causes and how disability is a hard grind that people must overcome. In “Come As You Are,” these men’s disabilities feel more like an identity, an aspect of who they are versus the entirety of who they are.
I do appreciate how sex is handled in this movie. Sex is sometimes basic and sometimes funny and also sometimes just a rite of passage for any young man. I appreciated how strongly this movie’s script came down on these dudes just simply wanting to get laid. It made the spectre of sex hanging over all of our heads for the duration of this film feel very familiar and very ordinary. It didn’t feel weird, sad, pathetic —or stigmatized.
(By the way, it should be noted that all of the actors portraying disabled characters are able-bodied, which may cause some viewers and critics to disagree with me on the complexity of the portrayal.)
“Come As You Are” director Richard Wong’s primary film credits previously were mostly in cinematography (on noteworthy films like “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”). In “Come As You Are,” he also brings his keen eye for aesthetically pleasing visuals and marries them with occasionally crass dialogue, caustic characters, and a funny-gritty odyssey to a brothel against the wishes of caretakers and parents. The effect of this contrast is actually really disarming and charming—it’s a cute, pretty-looking, funny, and affecting movie.
Rounding out the terrific cast are Janeane Garofalo, C. S. Lee, and Jennifer Jelsema as worried, overprotective parents.
As for the Asian quotient of this movie—yo, it’s pretty high! The director, Wong, is Asian. Szeto is Asian. Patel is Asian. Lee and Jelsema are Asian. Like, more than 50% of people appearing on-screen were of Asian descent! Culture doesn’t particularly get brought up explicitly in this movie (no one tells their kid to do their homework or else they’ll bring shame upon the family, for instance), but does kind of present itself in low key ways—how the parents worry, how the parents dress, how the parents talk to their kids. And that sort of nuanced way of communicating culture is some pro-level stuff that only an Asian director can bring.
“Come As You Are” was released on Feb. 14 and is available for purchase or via streaming rental through YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, and more.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.