"An entertaining and finally poignant film..."

Come As You Are is a typical road movie following three mates; Philip, Lars and Joseph who are into wine, banter and who all really, really need to get laid. The difference, or twist - if we want to be cynical about it, is that each of the boys are severely disabled; Philip is paralysed from the neck down, Lars is paralysed with a brain tumor, and Joseph is pretty much blind. After hearing of a Spanish brothel catering especially for the disabled, and finding the dating world a little inhospitable for “guys like them”, the three friends head off on a journey that will test their friendships, and where innocence will be lost in more ways than one.

Whether intentionally or not, Come As You Are inevitably joins Rust and Bone and Untouchable in a recent trend of foreign language films changing the way disabled people are portrayed in film, therefore helping to challenge public opinion on disability. Lars, Philip and Joseph are portrayed much like any “normal” characters would, and they are relatable, to an extent. Where Untouchable and Rust and Bone excel is in their focus on dispelling notions of a fundamental difference between able-bodied and disabled people; showing that we are all the same and are not necessarily more or less fortunate depending on our physical capabilities. The underlying themes in Come As You Are, of desire, friendship, and compassion and of obstacles to be overcome, are unifying in this way.

However, the particular obstacles the trio face are nearly all concerning their physical disabilities. There is a lack of integration between the three friends and the wider world, with almost all able-bodied characters being represented as obstructions to their journey, or as separate beings from a different world – even if they are categorised as such by the protagonists themselves. Lars, Philip and Joseph are all shown to struggle with and regret their physical situations. Whilst this may be realistic, as central conflicts in the narrative they are divisive, and sometimes place able-bodied viewers in a distant, unwillingly patronising position. Even as the friends head off towards this “special” brothel there is the constant nagging feeling that there shouldn’t be a brothel for the disabled, that any brothel can be for the disabled, or rather that these three decent looking, funny, amicable young guys shouldn’t have to go to a brothel to lose their virginities in the first place!

There is an anomaly in all this, in the form of Claude, the boys’ carer, the essential element that keeps the film grounded and prevents it, and the boys’ journey, from becoming a full on self-pitying sulk fest. But even Claude is portrayed as a bit of a misfit, being overweight and with a seriously troubled past of her own, she is as uncomfortable with “regular society” as the three boys are. Perhaps, then, this is the story of a group of misfits, who find comfort, friendship and an affinity with each other.

Script-wise, Come As You Are is over-sentimental at times and often predictable. As a comedy it is fairly one dimensional, and without the (almost) unique selling point it would struggle. Fortunately, the film has a savior in an incredibly strong cast, who make it difficult not to be emotionally involved. It is worth noting that none of the cast members are actually physically disabled (surely that should be the next positive step?), but deliver such good performances, emotionally and in the physicality of their roles, that I did have to look up and double check the situation before writing this – although there is a pretty cheesy scene late in the film that somewhat gives things away.

It is easy to be critical of a film portraying a more rare subject matter, especially one with the potential to change a common societal attitude. My expectations were high before watching Come As You Are. and the film was less than perfect. Still, it remains an entertaining and finally poignant film, and will surely be categorised as a solid addition to this new cinematic trend.

COME AS YOU ARE is out on DVD from Monday 7th October