Please Stand By is a warm, inspiring movie Star Trek fans will enjoy.
My hunch is the 2018 movie Please Stand By, written by Michael Golamco and directed by Ben Lewin, never showed up on many Star Trek fans’ radars. It only played in seven theaters, meaning it enjoyed no big publicity blitz. It hasn’t seemed to garner much good will on Rotten Tomatoes. (Though there are worse fates than failing to garner good will on Rotten Tomatoes.) But while Please Stand By is a movie meant for a wide audience, it’s also a Star Trek-adjacent movie with touches Trek fans will appreciate.
In Please Stand By, Dakota Fanning plays Wendy, a young woman with autism living in a group home in San Francisco. An intensely creative individual, Wendy’s also a Star Trek fan. She’s written an epic, 427-page “epic saga” for a Star Trek script competition. When she misses the postmark deadline, she decides to deliver her script to Paramount Pictures herself. The movie follows Wendy’s journey to Los Angeles, as well as the efforts of her caregiver, Scottie (Toni Collette), and her older sister, Audrey (Star Trek Into Darkness alumna Alice Eve) to find her.
Wendy’s trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles is full of surprises and challenges. She navigates some of them more easily and successfully than others. I can’t speak to how accurate Fanning’s portrayal of a person on the autism spectrum is, but I thought she creates a compelling, sympathetic, and easy-to-cheer-for character.
Alice Eve also delivers a moving performance as Audrey, who dearly loves her sister and is pained she doesn’t feel she can trust Wendy to take care of Audrey’s infant daughter, as Wendy wants to. The film also features brief but praiseworthy performances from Marla Gibbs and Patton Oswalt, whose turn as a police officer who speaks Klingon offers one of the most delightful Star Trek connections in the entire movie.
Please Stand By is about going forward to discover who we can be
Paramount Pictures has never sponsored the “To Boldly Go” Star Trek screenplay contest seen in Please Stand By. But it did accept spec scripts during the productions of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. And from 1998 to 2007 (with a last hurrah for the franchise’s 50th birthday in 2016), Pocket Books ran the Strange New Worlds short story contest for would-be Trek writers. (Shameless plug: “The First Law of Metaphysics” by yours truly appears in the second volume—still available in ebook; makes a great gift!)
Whether or not they’re writers, many Star Trek fans will be able to connect with Wendy’s desire to be part of this favorite fictional future.
Wendy especially relates to the character of Spock, on whom her epic script, which she titles The Many and the Few, focuses. Scottie’s son Sam (River Alexander) spells out Spock’s appeal to Wendy for his mother. Spock has trouble dealing with his emotions. This conflict at the character’s core is a major reason he has always been one of the franchise’s most fascinating personalities.
Spock’s struggle to find his own way in life mirrors not only Wendy’s struggle in Please Stand By but also those countless people, with or without autism, face. Dealing with feelings while discovering who we are and what we can do is simply the human condition, and part of Star Trek’s genius is embodying that condition in a half-human, half-alien character.
Star Trek fans will also appreciate how Please Stand By uses Trek elements sparingly but to powerful effect. For example, at a key moment, when Wendy’s quest seems completely doomed to failure, she remembers a line Spock says to Kirk in her script: “Captain, there is only one logical direction in which to go: forward.” Sure, it’s “on the nose,” but it’s also beautiful. Fans can easily imagine Spock saying these words, and they capture the essence of both Star Trek and Wendy’s story in this movie.
Some of the Trek details in Please Stand By are spot-on, such as the spacesuits Wendy imagines Kirk and Spock wearing—virtually identical to those seen in “The Tholian Web,” a clip of which we see in the movie. Some are modified, no doubt to make them more accessible to general viewers. (Despite the trivia question Wendy amazes her mall coworkers by answering correctly, Spock is not awarded the “Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honor” in “Court Martial,” his award is merely mentioned and is called the Vulcanian Scientific Legion of Honor—but yes, I know, only nerds care about such things.)
But mere trivia quibbles shouldn’t stop any Star Trek fan from watching and enjoying Please Stand By. The movie is a heartfelt and inspiring story about the power of imagination and determination to unlock more within us than we or those around us ever thought possible. It’s a beautiful reminder that, as Wendy writes in her script, “The unknown is there for us to conquer, not to fear.”