Film Review: Keep the Change

Surprisingly sweet rom-com featuring two people with autism benefits from affecting performances by leads Samantha Elisofon and Brandon Polansky.
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David Cohen (Brandon Polansky) is an aspiring filmmaker whose rude sense of humor has brought him trouble: Make a note—NYC police don't find pig jokes funny, especially coming from people who lack the understanding of non-verbal cues to know when to back off. That transgression has landed David in a court-ordered therapy program designed for high-functioning autistic adults and, one suspects, might have turned out much worse were David's parents (Jessica Walter and Tibor Feldman) not wealthy, well-connected and willing to send David to class in a chauffeured car, the better to limit his contact with people he can irritate the hell out of.

None of which matters to David, who rationalizes that his only problem is being stuck in a world of weirdos who just don't get him, including everyone in the group... everyone but the outgoing Sarah Silverstein (Samantha Elisofon), of the gummy smile, love of musical theatre and affection for sing-songy catchphrases like "easy peasy.” She takes a shine to him and her sunny optimism helps soften other members' understandable reluctance to put up with David's sense of aggrieved entitlement.

Which is not to say that their romance is without obstacles: David's parents are deeply suspicious of Sarah, whose self-confidence and ease with her sexuality lead her to say things that under some—all right, a number of—circumstances could be construed as distinctly inappropriate. But at the same time, she's less sheltered, or at least less cosseted, than David, and her frankness is tempered by a gentle determination to live life on her own terms, which have little to do with propriety and a lot with accepting people for who they are and making the best of circumstances beyond her control. All of which sounds like a recipe for a painfully good-for-you lesson in difference and tolerance, rather than a breezy comedy-drama, or dramatic comedy, depending on the scene.

First-time feature writer-director Rachel Israel—who first tackled the story in a 2013 short film of the same title—avoids the clichés that mar many well-intentioned and sympathetic films about characters who are non-neurotypical. Keep the Change is not a problem movie, just a movie about people who have problems and must either deal with them or be overwhelmed by them…which is to say pretty much everyone. David can be a jerk; Sarah is given to serious over-sharing. His parents—especially his mother—are overprotective because they're afraid he'll be exploited; her grandmother is sweet but, as Sarah whispers conspiratorially to David the first time she introduces her, also an alcoholic. Keep the Change is funny in a low-key way—Elisofon and Polansky have room to inhabit their characters because they're not caught up in a stream of contrived situations and broad comic bits; the same is true of much of the supporting cast, notably Nicky Gottlieb, whose Sammy is writing and directing a play for fellow members of the support group and expects everyone to approach it as seriously as he does... this is theatre.

Though clearly not a film for every market, Keep the Change is easy to like, especially for moviegoers who aren't looking for a superhero movie, weighty drama or broad comedy.

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