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BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | In March of 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new, alarming statistic. In the United States, one in every 68 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. That is nearly twice as many as reported in 2000. Current studies question whether autism is an unfortunate bi-product of modern immunizations, dietary shifts or genetic mutations, or whether our heightened awareness and knowledge have caused this rapid increase in diagnosis. While much debate can be traced through the media these days, Matt Fuller’s spectacular film covers a less prominent aspect within this subject.
“Autism in Love” explores the lives of four autistic adults as they pursue and manage romantic relationships. There is the twentysomething Lenny, who lives at home with his mother. While searching for the perfect woman, Lenny is battling various insecurities rooted in his obviously being “different” and not having been able to follow his friends to college and pursue a higher education. We also get to know Lindsey and David, who have been a couple for several years and who are on the verge of considering marriage. It’s the logical next step to cement their union, and an especially important one to Lindsey. Finally, Fuller introduces Stephen, who had to face the loss of his wife and best friend due to cancer.
The manifestations of autism affect everyone differently and Fuller’s film reflects this beautifully. In contrast to Stephen, for example, who works in manual labor and whose communication is abrupt and pedantic, Lindsey is highly reflective and insightful about her emotions and condition. She also is a classically trained pianist.
No matter how different, Fuller succeeds in portraying all his subjects with both respect and tender compassion. This is largely achieved through the words and gestures of the individuals portrayed, as well as through added reflections by some of their parents. This feature-length documentary doesn’t employ a narrator’s voice-over guide, nor do we hear the filmmaker’s prompting questions. Instead, the structure is somewhat loose and, like love, unpredictable.
Though we rhythmically move from one individual’s contemplations and story to the next (and back around), the various portraits feel intuitive. This film is made of a series of conversations, but we only get to follow the interviewee’s side. Because there is no overall narrative, we stumble upon surprising facts slowly, each aiding in building the viewer’s compassion for the subjects.
Autism remains a broad label for a vast spectrum of afflictions. Though it’s widely discussed, much remains unknown. If one looks up the term on Wikipedia, one reads: “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication.” If you look up the definition of love on the same site, for example, you will find: “Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection to pleasure.”
These two descriptions seem incompatible with each other. However, by looking at Fuller’s four well-nuanced portraits, “Autism in Love” reveals that things are hardly this simple. The human endeavor is a mysterious one, and love most certainly so. This applies to all of us, no matter what our exterior and interior struggles.
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | AUTISM IN LOVE
Directed by Matt Fuller
Runtime: 75 minutes
Thurs., 4/16, 5:30pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.)
Fri., 4/17, 5:30pm & Sat., 4/18, 6:30pm & Tues., 4/21, 3:30pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
$18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee)
Visit tribecafilm.com/festival or call 646-502-5296