Three dramas about autistic characters which are must sees

Over the weekend, my wife and I saw two dramas in one day that featured a character with autism – “Snow cake” and “Please stand by.” Both were entertaining and educational and we each walked away feeling good vibes about the human spirit. In recent years, I wrote a post about a third, even more moving movie about an autistic character, the true story of “Temple Grandin” a Ph.D who overcame and used her autism to be successful.

“Snow cake” stars Sigourney Weaver, as an adult woman with autism named Linda, who was living with her grown, good hearted and care-free daughter Vivienne (played by Emily Hampshire) who was killed in a car accident early on in the movie. Alan Rickman plays Alex the driver of the car who was compelled to pick up Vivienne as she always finds a ride with the loneliest looking soul in a roadside cafe. While Alex did not cause the accident, he feels responsible to get the odd gifts Vivienne bought along the way to her mother. The movie is largely about Linda and Alex’ interesting interactions and mutual growth and friendship. Linda will not let Alex leave, but he has to stay there by her OCD like rules. He does so and plans a perfect send-off funeral for Vivienne, negotiating with Linda as to what to do. Carrie Ann Moss plays an important role as a neighbor.

“Please stand by” is about an autistic young woman named Wendy, starring Dakota Fanning who loves Star Trek. So, much that she has written a Star Trek screen play for a contest which she feels she must deliver in person to meet the deadline. From the parts of the screen play read, she has a good grasp of the characters and feelings (and we learn why she has an affinity for the character Spock). Her solo road trip unnerves her sister Audrey, played by Alice Eve, and her therapist Scottie, played by Toni Collette, who try to track her down. Unfortunately, she sees the worst in some folks who take advantage of her and the best in others. Patton Oswalt, plays an important cameo as a cop who also loves Star Trek and speaks Klingon (if you have to ask….). And, Marla Gibbs (from the old TV show “The Jeffersons”) plays a woman of conscience who shames a clerk into not cheating Wendy.

“Temple Grandin” stars Claire Danes as a very bright and inquisitive autistic young woman who becomes a scientist, inventor and speaker. Two key roles in her life are played by Julia Ormond as her mother and David Strathairn as a science professor in college. Grandin invents a device to calm her by giving her a controlled hug. She notes kids with autism feel a chaotic life and this controlled hugging is soothing. She also invents a new manner in which cattle can calmly be led treating them with as much dignity as possible given what is about to happen to them. If you want to read more about this movie, a link is below. If you do watch, make sure you have some tissue, especially for the scene about the autism conference for parents.

These are three examples of movies that can both entertain and illuminate. Doing our best to walk in the shoes of those with autism makes us more empathetic and aware.

A Monster Calls

Do you ever get surprised by a movie or book? You did not expect to like it, but it touches your core. The movie “A Monster Calls” fits into this category.

The movie stars Felicity Jones as a divorced mother of a boy, Conor, who is bullied at school, but has anger issues, the source of which are revealed as the movie develops. Conor is played by Lewis MacDougall who does a wonderful job revealing his angst, which is far more than the bullying.

Conor loves to draw like his mother and is quite imaginative. He awakens each night at 12:07 am to a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who evolves out of an old tree Conor can see from his window in a field near a church. The monster teaches him parables, one each night, with one requirement. Conor must tell him a key truth when he is done with all of his lessons.

I will leave the summation at that. Sigourney Weaver plays his grandmother who has a hard time understanding her artistic daughter and grandson. Weaver does an excellent job in her role, as she must come to grips with her own angst and get closer to her daughter and grandson.

Give the movie a chance and don’t let the title turn you away. You may want to have a Kleenex close by, just in case. The simple truth may touch your core.

If you have seen it, tell me what you think. If you have not, you may want to avoid reading the comments. What other movies or books surprised you?

We need Dave

One of my favorite movies is called “Dave” starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. Kline plays the title character who is asked to be a puppet President propped up by the Chief of Staff (played by Frank Langella) after the President has a stroke. Dave is tapped due to his close resemblance to the President which he has parlayed into an act for parties.

Yet, Dave turns out to be a surprisingly good President who gets further enabled when the First Lady (Weaver) realizes he is a fraud and her husband (who she loathes  due to his affair) is in a coma on life support. She encourages Dave to be a true people’s President and he flourishes. Unlike the President he replaces, he focuses on jobs and helping people when needed. The best segment is when he asks his accountant, Murray, played by Charles Grodin, to find money in the budget to help disadvantaged kids and then plays his ideas out in front of his cabinet to the fury of the Chief of Staff.

Thinking of the line from Simon and Garfunkel song, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” I would insert Dave’s name for the needed hero. Rather than the man who is President in name only, we need Dave to come to the rescue and take the reins. It cannot be the Vice President who has become chief sycophant to the President agreeing with every inane thing he does. We need a hero who truly cares about people and relationships, values those who serve and inspires others. The “valuing those who serve” is important as our current President shows disrespect to hard working civil servants as well as his staff and due process.

Two key undercurrents of the movie are the relationship Dave has with his Secret Service lead (played by Ving Rhames) and his respect he gains for his Vice President (played by Ben Kingsley). He values them and they show him respect in return.

So, if we could trade out Dave for Donald, we would be in a much better place. And, if he cannot do it, maybe Michael Douglas’   “The American President” could be tapped.