Come as You Are (Belgium: Hasta la Vista), 2011.
Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven.
Starring Gilles De Schrijver, Robrecht Vanden Thoren and Tom Audenaert.
Three guys in their twenties love wine and women but they are still virgins. Under the guise of a wine tour they embark on a journey to Spain hoping to have their first sexual experience.
Come as You Are is a comic drama about three Belgians who go on a booze-filled tour of France and Spain in search of sun, sea and sex. What separates this from other laddish, raunchy comedies featuring sex-hungry young men like Sex Drive and The Inbetweeners? The three lads have physical impairments: Jozef (Tom Audenaert, The Misfortunates) is blind, Lars (Gilles De Schrijver, Code 37) suffers from a brain tumour confining him to a wheelchair and Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren, The Over the Hill Band) is paralysed from the neck down.
I’m not sure whether it is more critical of this film or of the film industry in general that the film’s defining feature is its warts and all portrayal of disability. Thankfully, the film also stands out for its great acting, humour, effective drama and confident directing.
The film is a dramatised version of a BBC documentary called For One Night Only about the experiences of Asta Philpot, a man born with arthrogryposis, who visited a specialist brothel in Spain in order to lose his virginity. In the film, Jozef, Philip and Lars, with the help of nurse Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh, Le Miroir), follow in Philpot’s footsteps by running away from home to have the night of their lives in Spain.
What’s most remarkable about the movie is perhaps how unremarkable it is. It has all the situations and story beats one might expect from a film of this genre: the boys get drunk, fall out, make up, get the girl, and so on. While some might be frustrated by these clichés, the fact the film does these moments so well, with good dialogue and engaging acting, helps a great deal.
This familiarity also plays into the films main theme: despite living in unordinary circumstances, these lads are as ordinary as anyone else. They have the same desires, both physical and emotional, and foibles as able-bodied people. That might sound patronising, but it’s an important point the movie tries to get across, and one worth considering when compared to the medium as a whole, one that rarely features characters with physical impairments outside of maudlin drama, or only features such characters as one-dimensional comic relief or plot devices.
In comparison, the characters of Come as You Are have depth and are well developed. Beside their over-arching desire of experiencing physical intimacy, a desire that drives the film, the three leads are passionate and good friends, but also have their faults. Philip, in particular, often gets the group into trouble by being the outspoken loud-mouth of the group. Furthermore, in the film’s second act, Lars and Philip make fun of Claude because she is a woman (they were expecting a male nurse) and because of her weight. The irony of the scene, that two people with physical impairments would discriminate against someone for being physically different, is deliberate, again playing to the film’s theme (just because someone is physically disabled, doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t be a dick) and a subtle script with excellent direction makes the characters realize their fault, without hammering the point home or spelling it out to bluntly.
While the drama is at times forced and, as mentioned, clichéd, it is at least done well. There are very funny lines of dialogue, the actors are engaging and enjoyable to watch, and forced drama does pay off into a deserved, bittersweet ending.
It goes without saying, but Come as You Are is a foreign language movie, and hence has subtitles. If you are one of those people who does not like foreign films for this reason, that’s a shame as you are cutting yourself off from a wealth of good movies, such as this one, but I understand that for some cinema-goers that is a problem. And that’s not to say I didn’t have my own problems with the film.
It at times felt a tad misogynistic (the film opens on a pair of female runners in slow-motion with bouncing breasts, and, as mentioned, the treatment of the character of Claude comes off as a bit sexist) and the film doesn’t address or even mention any potential troubling questions about the Spanish brothel or prostitution: why are these women pursuing this line of work? Is okay for women to be exploited sexually when those seeking intimacy are disabled? Is there a seedy side to this brothel? Nope, instead it’s full of glamorous, smiley prostitutes who are happy with their work. But maybe that’s just me being a wooly leftie.
Also, some could have an issue with the choice of actors in the film, as none of them are disabled in real life. As someone with little knowledge of real life disability, to me the actors seemed convincing in their roles: through the course of the film I believed that they were actually had physical impairments, as the actors commit to their roles and the limitations placed upon them. And while casting able–bodied actors pays off in an important scene near the end of the film, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a shame that the filmmakers didn’t hire actors who do have physical impairments. It felt like a missed opportunity in an otherwise superb film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★