Sunday, 27 December 2015

Come As You Are

One of the reasons I started this nonsense, by which I mean Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard rather than this particular entry in it, was to try to raise awareness of disability and what it's really like. You can go to as many Disability Awareness events as you like, complete any online diversity modules you like, but it's all just bullshit lip service. Box-ticking of the most putrid kind. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard might not be the stuff of Helen Fielding or Sue Townsend, but it is at least a first hand account of the shit that is flung at you through disability. It keeps it real.

Which is why I want to tell you about a film I watched recently which was a noble attempt to do something similar. Come As You Are requires a bit of effort. It's not the easy watch that Avengers Age Of Ultron is. It's played out entirely in Flemish with English subtitles, which I realise is enough to put many people off. For reasons too absurd to go into I saw a subtitled version of the third Hunger Games movie at the cinema and it was all very off-putting. But somehow it's different when the language you are hearing the characters speak is not English. Either way this one is well worth that extra bit of endeavour.

Come As You Are tells the story of three young disabled men who plan a trip to a Spanish brothel in a bid to lose their virginity. Now there's an obvious problem with this I know. Such a premise suggests that disabled men who do not visit brothels must have their virginity intact. Which of course is a nonsense. Some disabilities make the loss of one's virginity more difficult than others. And in choosing men of varied disabilities for protagonists the writers seem to be tarring them all with the same shitty, soggy old brush. One is paralysed from the neck down, another is almost completely blind, while the third uses a wheelchair because he has an inoperable, soon to be fatal tumour. I can just about get my head around why the writers thought that the two wheelchair users would need to embark on their quest. The paraplegic Phillip is unable to dress or feed himself. His parents put him to bed at night and get him out of bed in the morning, and his mother washes him. Tumour-suffering Lars has more mobility but is equally fussed over by his parents. If I can testify (and I can) that something as relatively benign as Spina Bifida can interfere with your ability to attract the opposite sex, then it's a fairly safe assumption that guys in Phillip and Lars' predicaments will have a tough time with that also. Immobility is not sexy. Women see it as weakness, which is as uncomfortable as it is true. But the third protagonist, Jozef, is blind remember. What is it about blindness that renders one sexually ostracised? Josef was noticeably less attractive from where I sat than either Phillip or Lars so perhaps that was his problem. Or perhaps the idea being proposed is that the vanity of women prevents them from falling for someone who isn't with them at least in part for the way they look.

Away from their sexlessness, the saddest part of the lives of Phillip and Lars in particular is how they are not trusted to do anything by their parents, despite being young adults. They live a depressing, strangled existence and know very well that they will not be given permission to go on the trip if they reveal the reason for it. So they lie, and when the first nurse that they plan to take with them backs out at the last minute they are refused permission to go regardless. So they end up having to sneak out against their parents wishes. Which I loved. I've known people with various disabilities who have declined to do things for themselves based on what their parents would think and it's just tragic. You just want to shake them by the shoulders and scream at them. None of which is necessary with Phillip, Lars or Jozef.

The nurse they had booked finds them a replacement and it's all back on again. Claude brings a new dimension to proceedings as she firstly struggles to get on with the men but then slowly wins them over. Her clashes with Phiilip are particularly entertaining. He's not very likeable but then that's ok. Not all disabled men are. I've spent tireless hours being rude to people so I'm something of an expert. Refreshingly, the film doesn't try to pretend that everyone should love or feel sorry for Phillip just because he has a disability. An arsehole is an arsehole whatever problems they might have. This is very well illustrated by a scene in which Phillip almost gets his lights punched out by a hotel guest. Only the imposing and slightly scary figure of Claude gets him out of the sticky spot that his smart mouth gets him into.

Disappointingly only Jozef manages to make an actual emotional connection to anyone by the end. The girls at the brothel are clearly there for one thing and are deemed so irrelevant that their dialogue isn't even subtitled. This approach misses the target for me. Yes if you had reached the ages of these men without losing your virginity then the sex part would be important, but it's wrong to suggest that men of this age are only interested in physicalities. That's just part of it. Of feeling like you're accepted and not being dehumanised by everyone. My own masculinity takes a hit every time a woman opens a door for me. In this respect these issues are handled better by something like Inside I'm Dancing, a similar story with a similar premise but which has its protagonists looking for something deeper. Something real.

Come As You Are is funny, thought provoking but undeniably tragic. And well worth an hour and three quarters of your time if you find yourself combing through the iplayer for an alternative to cooking shows over the festive period.

No comments: