It would be easy for Come as You Are to turn into a cloying, condescending lecture about how the disabled are people, too, and there are times when Richard Wong’s remake of the 2011 Belgian film Hasta La Vista comes pretty close to that. But for the most part, Wong and screenwriter Erik Linthorst avoid heavy-handed moralizing, depicting their main characters as fully realized protagonists, flaws and all, without ignoring the hardships that inform every aspect of their lives. Based loosely on the real-life experiences of disability activist Asta Philpot, Come as You Are moves the story from Europe to North America, but keeps the basic idea of three friends traveling to a brothel that specializes in serving the needs of the disabled.
The driving force behind this expedition is 24-year-old Scotty (Grant Rosenmeyer), who’s spent his entire life confined to a wheelchair thanks to an unnamed condition that severely limits his ability to move. Scotty is an aspiring rapper and ladies’ man who only drops rhymes in the privacy of his own bedroom and has never had a successful conversation with a woman who isn’t his mom (Janeane Garofalo, in a nicely understated performance). He’s kind of an dick, in the way that sexually frustrated men in their 20s often are, and while no one calls him an incel, he’s probably not far off from posting misogynist rants on Reddit.
Luckily, he has at least one friend, the timid but supportive Mo (Ravi Patel), a legally blind employee at the rehab center where Scotty gets physical therapy. When Scotty’s alpha status at the facility is threatened by the arrival of Matt (Hayden Szeto), a hunky paraplegic college student, Scotty first insults the new arrival and then tries to recruit Matt for his far-fetched plan to travel thousands of miles across the Canadian border to Montreal, home of Chateau Paradis, where sex workers cater to people with special needs. After Matt catches his girlfriend with another guy, he decides to take Scotty up on his offer, and with Mo’s reluctant help, they hire a nurse named Sam (Gabourey Sidibe) as their combination chauffeur and caregiver.
Scotty and Matt also sneak away on this multi-day journey without telling their parents, resulting in a familiar road-trip comedy, as the dudes cut loose on their first substantial break from parental supervision, barely staying one step ahead of the worried adults who are after them (never mind that all of these people are also adults). The guys are wary of Sam at first, worried that she’ll ditch them if she finds out the true purpose of their trip, but of course all four characters end up bonding (and even more, thanks to the unlikely but welcome attraction between Mo and Sam).
Come as You Are wouldn’t be less predictable if its main characters were able-bodied horny teenagers, but that’s part of the point. These are regular guys with regular, sometimes crude desires, and the filmmakers don’t shy away from showing that they can be inconsiderate and quick-tempered. They can also learn and grow, and most of that character development feels organic, although Wong and Linthorst can’t resist occasionally pushing too hard, especially during a treacly finale that combines Scotty’s awkward rapping with a tear-jerking lesson about friendship. It’s a testament to the central performances that the ending doesn’t ruin the entire movie.
All four main actors bring depth and empathy to their roles, shining in the comedic moments (a scene in which the three guys team up to attempt to drive Sam’s van is a highlight) and almost never overselling the emotional beats. Come as You Are is broad and silly and sometimes clumsy, but it’s also charming and funny and deceptively sweet, the kind of bumpy journey that’s ultimately rewarding.
“Come As You Are” is out Friday in limited release and on demand.