By Andrea Thompson
It seems difficult for most movies to acknowledge that people with disabilities exist, let alone that they actually have a desire for sex. So while we may have seen this kind of road trip comedy about a bunch of guys who mostly have sex on their minds, we haven’t seen one quite like this. In “Come As You Are,” all the guys are disabled, and they’re heading to a brothel that caters specifically to the needs of disabled men so they can lose their virginity. It’s a twist with a heart, one that remains in the right place, even if the approach might be wrong-headed at times.
Consciously or not, Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer), Matt (Hayden Szeto), and Mo (Ravi Patel) are looking for the desire to be seen as people, rather than fragile invalids who require constant care and protection. That they’re also looking for freedom and independence is a given, but there’s another kind of freedom to be found here, and that’s the capability of disabled men to be total dicks like everybody else. Well, mostly just men I guess. When disabled women are allowed to not only appear on-screen, but exhibit these kinds of imperfections, we’ll know there’s some real progress being made.
Anyway, this type of freedom mostly falls to Scotty to embody, but then, someone has to find the brothel and set everything in motion, and it might as well be the one with the least pretense. The movie’s real savior arrives just in time, about when “Come As You Are” is on the brink of making women unattainable sex objects who embody everything the trio is denied. All hail Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Sam, a tough nurse who is hired to drive the guys to their destination. She gets her own troubles, backstory, and even an arc, since the guys are understandably reluctant to inform her about the real purpose of their trip, giving their interactions some friction. By the time they fill her in, she doesn’t become a Cool Girl, she’s mostly relieved they haven’t gotten her into anything illegal.
It’s one of the most shrewd decisions the movie makes for much of the bonding to come after everything is laid out (so to speak). The friendship between the foursome has an obvious root in their shared status as underdogs, but there’s another, less conspicuous undercurrent in that she’s also from a group which has a history of desexualization. She’s a large Black woman, and two out of three of the guys are also Asian-American, who have only recently begun to be portrayed as viable romantic options. (Seriously, just Google Asian-American men and see what comes up.)
“Come As You Are” also delivers on its main promise. Delivers as in watching these four is hilarious as genuine friendships form and vulnerabilities are revealed with compassion, wit, a fair amount of insight, and no small amount of skill, even if all of the men playing these characters are able-bodied. The film also skillfully avoids cheap sentiment, no small feat here. Director Richard Wong has mostly made a career as a cinematographer in films such as “Advantageous” and “To the Bone,” and he does an excellent job capturing the many locales the foursome find themselves in on their trip, including Chicago. Here’s hoping another film comes along and does for disabled women what this one does so well for their male counterparts.