Belgian comedy-drama Come as You Are (Hasta La Vista) is not at all the film you’d expect. When reading the synopsis – three men in their 20s travel to a brothel in Spain in the hopes of losing their virginities at last – you might be looking forward to an Inbetweeners-style comedy or a European take on the American Pie franchise and, upon learning that the three men are, in fact, disabled, you wouldn’t be blamed for doubting how funny said comedy could really be (how many times have we seen some form of disability mocked in comedies, after all?). Yet, to the film’s ultimate credit, the fact that Jozef, Philip and Lars all have a disability doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
While it lacks surprises in terms of structure and the order and frequency of certain story beats, the story’s three heroes are the kind of people that stay with you after the film has finished. We’re introduced to the friends just as Philip, a paraplegic, discovers the existence of a brothel especially for people ‘like them’. Philip, Jozef (almost completely blind) and Lars (suffering from a degenerative terminal disease) all agree to go on their first trip together without the protection of their parents, to which they reluctantly agree. It all changes, however, when Lars’ prognosis takes a turn for the worse.
Without the permission of their parents and with a nurse/driver seemingly less qualified than their original choice, the three friends take off anyway, in an attempt to make Lars’ last days or weeks a little less painful. From here, Come As You Are is effectively a road movie with hints of Sideways’ wine tastings and, yes, Inbetweeners-esque nights on the town. Before they reach their ultimate destination the group, joined by their nurse, Claude, get drunk in cheap hotels, spend a night camping under the stars, and encounter plenty of new and unexpected experiences.
Like most road movies, their journey starts out a bit crap before becoming fun once some inter-group issues are ironed out, but none of the performances falter even once. Robrecht Vanden Thoren as Philip is great as a man in a kind of arrested development, angry at the world for robbing him of his independence but absolutely determined to appear in control at all times. He’s immature, rude and prone to spells of rage taken out on his friends and family – it’s a relatable facet of his personality that, crucially, has little to do with his physical disability. He also claims most of the film’s funniest moments.
Likewise, Jozef (Tom Audenaert), Lars (Gilles De Schrijver) and Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh) all feel like real, fleshed-out people in a film that could have been a distasteful after-school special filled with clichés and emotional manipulation. Jozef is timid and unsure, Lars is having trouble dealing with the prospect of dying young and Claude is doing her best to deal with her charges even when they make her job near impossible. Each has a journey to go on that hasn’t any easy answers, but those questions are significant and fascinating ones for us to ponder.
Thankfully, the film is never condescending, yet it doesn’t make any efforts to educate its audience, either. There aren’t many surprises in terms of what happens to the three lads, which is a shame, but the characters are so likeable that it doesn’t start to matter until near to the end. It’s an old trope beaten into the ground during the noughties – a group of young underdogs go on a journey of self-discovery in search of girls – given a unique twist and, while that doesn’t make it something new in and of itself, it’s still nice to see something slightly different.
With great dollops of heart and humour, the charm of the film lies in those we follow on their journey, a group of flawed and interesting people forced together not in spite of their differences, but because of them.
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