Sam Fleischner / USA / 2013 / 107 mins
While awareness has increased in the last decade, autism remains to be a condition that many don’t fully understand. Stand Clear of the Closing Doors tells the story of 13-year-old Ricky, an autistic boy who finds himself lost on the New York City subway after his sister forgets to pick him up from school. Unlike many films that give exaggerated or inaccurate portrayals of the disorder, in this drama director Sam Fleischner sheds light on life for those with autism in both an understated and convincing way.
Fleischner’s depiction of the condition is where the film truly shines. Almost documentary-like in its style, the drama effectively explores many attributes related to autism, giving insight into the condition not only as an observer, but from the perspective of Ricky also. With his subtle and very realistic performance, Jesus Sanchez-Velez, who himself has Asperger Syndrome, proves how those with autism can be bright and creative individuals who are often misunderstood. That said, the film also stresses the constant aid that some sufferers require. Scenes such as Ricky wetting himself and starving for food are incredibly distressing; however, they act as valuable warnings about the danger of neglecting those who need such intense care.
While these central themes are effectively executed, the film as a whole falls short. There are too many sub-plots embedded within the drama, from Ricky’s illegal immigrant parents to the ominous arrival of Hurricane Sandy. Fleischner’s attempts to add depth and tension leave Ricky’s struggle occasionally overshadowed. There is also an unconvincing lack of urgency seen in the mother’s search for Ricky. Her idleness and projection of her anger onto her family is incredibly frustrating and rather tedious.
As a cinematic experience, the film is not particularly enjoyable to watch, with feelings of tension and unease persisting throughout; nevertheless, it is an exemplary piece of work in terms of raising awareness of autism. The modesty and realism behind the performances given are an achievement by Fleischner and Sanchez-Velez, one that should be greatly admired.