The prospect of a trio of twentysomething virgins embarking on a sexual odyssey of a road-trip is not likely to seem unfamiliar to most cinema audiences. In Geoffrey Enthoven’s Belgian comedy Come As You Are (Hasta la Vista, 2011) this potentially tired convention is given a cute twist in that each of the young men is severely disabled. As such, their voyage is more akin to that of Mark O’Brien in The Sessions (2012) than the cruder hijinks of the gross-out American Pie franchise. Avoiding over-sentimentality it proves a humorous, good natured affair which perhaps proves a little too generic but is an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is a paraplegic, Lars (Gilles de Schrijver) has a debilitating terminal cancer and Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is almost completely blind. Philip and Lars are both confined to wheelchairs and Jozef uses a magnifier to see. One day, on the suggestion of a never-seen friend called Curt, they decide to plan a road trip. Proposed to their folks (upon whom they all depend entirely) as a wine-tasting tour, their journey will culminate at a specialist brothel in Spain that Curt has recommended. When Lars condition deteriorates, the official trip is cancelled and they’re forced to make a break for it with off-the-books chauffeur/nurse Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh).
The chaperone is not exactly what’s expected – a woman who doesn’t speak a single word of Flemish – but they get underway regardless pursued by their panicking parents. Unsurprisingly, the frosty relationship between Claude and the boys gradually thaws and they form a touching bond. Despite being a tired cliché, it’s once again the journey that our characters go on that’s important to the boys, rather than the final destination – though whether ‘El Cielo’ will turn out to be the advertised paradise is always in the back of the mind. The performances of the four leads are all exceptional and it is their chemistry and conflict that provide the majority of the films nicest touches both comedic and serious.
Vanden Thoren imbues their raucous leader Philip with an astute mix of childishness and joi de vivre, while de Schryver manages a moving portrait of a young man painfully aware of his own mortality. It’s Jozef and the mature head of Claude who hold the group together and their own touching journeys complement the others’ nicely. The way the film treats disability is never crass but also avoids being overly reverential with the characters chiding one another constantly, as a group of male friends would do.
A more original take on the material would have been interesting to see but, Enthoven’s Come As You Are remains a moving and funny road movie that operates in that realm somewhere between arthouse and the mainstream. Whilst its bittersweet end may have been evident from the outset, their voyage provides enough laughs and well-observed character moments to maintain momentum.