Asperger’s Are Us is described as a
coming of age documentary and is the directorial debut of Alex
Lehmann. It is an inspiring and entertaining film about four
friends diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which means that they are
on the high-functioning
end of the autism spectrum. The quartet, formed of Noah Britton,
Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan and Jack Hanke, first met a decade earlier at a
summer camp for teenagers with Asperger’s where their close
friendship coalesced around their mentor Noah, who was older and
working at the camp to support others with his condition. The four
found a shared interest in humour and performing and out of this arose
the comedy show that shares the title of the film. This documentary
follows them as they prepare to stage their last public show
before their young adult lives take them in different directions.
Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to screen Asperger’s Are
Us in March 2016.
Asperger’s Are Us begins by
introducing us to the four friends, providing some background on
each man in turn, and highlighting their individual
characteristics. The young man who perhaps features most in the
film calls himself New Michael (he calls his father Old Michael)
rather than his given name of Aaron. The film gives a sense of the
struggles that New Michael’s parents have had throughout his
childhood and adolescence as they are interviewed several times.
Noah, the oldest man of the troupe and originally mentor to the
others, is very engaging as he provides a somewhat droll commentary
and continues to be the apparent motivator for the group. Jack is
introduced within his family home as he contemplates leaving home
in the USA to go to Oxford University in the UK, where he has been
awarded a prestigious scholarship for a year. His family outline
that Jack doesn’t like to be touched and Jack appears slightly lost
as his father attempts to ruffle his hair playfully. Lastly, the
quietest member of the quartet is Ethan who admits to having a
pronounced interest in trains.
The film is structured as a timeline that
records the troupe’s progress as they prepare for the final theatre
performance of their comedy show. The hazard of rehearsing with a condition that
impairs focus is well portrayed and yet their commitment to their
material is very apparent. The humour tends to favour word play and is often dry, deadpan
and absurd. Very little of the actual show features, but there is
enough to demonstrate the nature of their humour and how it relates to their unique
relationship with the world. The film even captures some members of
the audience walking out during the show, demonstrating that
isn’t to everyone’s taste.
However, the powerful bond that the four friends share is palpable
and this is touchingly displayed in the film. It also has a
particularly satisfying conclusion by providing a brief
summary of how the men’s lives have developed more than a year
after this final performance together.
Relevance to the Field of Mental
This is a feel good film about friendship
and the therapeutic power of creativity in four young men who have
been diagnosed with Asperger’s. It is especially interesting that
they have found a social connection through humour and the collective purpose of
performance. As those on the autistic spectrum, including with
Asperger syndrome, characteristically struggle to use or
understand facial expressions, tone of voice, abstract concepts and
jokes and sarcasm, the development of a comedy routine becomes all
the more impressive and interesting.
The film provides an excellent educational
resource for broadening understanding about Asperger syndrome and
viewing it could usefully be combined with browsing the following
resources. The website of The National Autistic
Society has some very helpful information on
Asperger syndrome and a very good short video titled ‘What is
autism’. There is also a useful
the Royal College of Psychiatrists website with information for parents
about Autism and Asperger
Most of all, I recommend this film for its
ability to portray its subjects without pity or negativity about
their disability despite showing some of the challenges that they
face. It seems that this is just what the four friends would wish.
They are quoted as saying that their show is not an autism
awareness campaign but a pure comedy act designed to entertain.
What a fun way to start the year!
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