Polemicising the sexless adolescence of disabled youth, Geoffrey Enthoven’s Come As You Are seeks salvation on the Spanish costa.
The Inbetweeners by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s a rich seam for Oscar-worthy performances, disability. From My Left Foot to The Diving Bell And The Butterfly and Rust And Bone. But there’s a plucky young rival to these grandes dames of personal tragedy, and comedies are rapidly gaining the upper hand. Inside I’m Dancing was an early pioneer, but all of a sudden there’s The Intouchables, Quartet, and now Come As You Are inviting us to laugh with the senile, wheelchair-bound and blind as they poke fun at themselves and each other. None are as humanising and universal however as Geoffrey Enthoven’s tale of three young men heading to Spain to lose their virginity. A lads on the lash movie with a difference, Come As You Are is thought provoking and powerful, but above all funny and inspiring.
Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is paralysed from the neck down, and after a trip to the Dutch coast with his parents, he hatches a plan to lose his virginity in a Spanish brothel. Accompanying him on his journey to the Punta del Mar are Lars (Gilles De Schrijver) – also wheelchair bound and debilitated by cancer and ultramyopic Jozef (Tom Audenaert) who needs both glasses and telescope to watch the TV. Their protective parents refuse to let them go without medical supervision, but when Lars’ doctor reveals a growing tumour, the whole adventure is thrown into jeopardy. Until, that is, they decide to make a break for it anyway and take on Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh), a gruff French-speaking nurse with a shady past.
Inspired by the BBC documentary For One Night Only about arthrogryposis sufferer Asta Philpot (who makes a cameo appearance in the wine-testing scene), Come As You Are is a curious cross between The Sessions and The Inbetweeners. And it’s not so much a story of overcoming disability as it is of boys becoming men, too shy to reveal their trip to Spain’s true purpose to their protective and ever-present parents, but casting off their infantilising embrace to make this journey to the heavenly Spanish brothel El Cielo. Of course, they can’t do it alone, and to begin with, they look out for each other – a trusting combination of limbs, brains and eyes working together. And while later they continue to assert their independence, even forming their own human centipede of electric wheelchair pulling wheelchair guiding stick, their obstinate self-sufficiency falls apart when Lars falls off his chair and Jozef gets locked out of the boys’ hotel rooms. It’s only then that they give in to Claude’s help, overcoming the humiliation of being undressed and washed by the surly mammoth.
Paralysed from the neck down, terminally ill or blind, Philip, Lars and Jozef are still ordinary teenagers – admiring the “tannins” on a well endowed sommeliere, and imagining for themselves a Spanish beach filled with dolphins, palm trees and “kilometres of tits”. In the opening reel, Philip turns to admire two buxom beach runners with the sexual confidence of a jock. Drunk on wine, they fight with obnoxious Dutch tourists at a vineyard – neither meek nor easily intimidated, the inevitable drubbing only dodged however by a rampaging Claude. And the universality of their experience is heightened as they contemplate the parallel futures they could have had, or listen to love interest Reina’s dreams of backpacking – adventure and independence, adolescent rites of passage which, like the Eiffel Tower disappearing as they speed by on the Périphérique, remain tantalisingly out of reach.
Philip, Lars and Jozef all experience their trip differently, seeing the stars at ‘Hotel Claude’ and feeling the cool freshness of a river wash aren’t sensations they can all share. But consummation at El Cielo sees all three become whole, in a white-suited vision of ecstasy freed from the limitations of disability. It’s a fleeting moment, but a levelling one. And through our conduit Claude, we are drawn in too, made aware of our limitatons – the handicaps that hold us back. At times unsubtle and with a camerawork that’s too static to make the boys’ immobile adventures fly, Come As You Are makes up for it with a genuinely funny script and elegant performances from its four leads. Sex comedy is back. Hasta la vista, baby.
Come As You Are is released on 7th June 2013 in the UK