By Nils Skudra
This weekend I had the opportunity to watch Jane Wants a Boyfriend, a heartwarming autism-themed film about a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome seeking a romantic relationship. I had learned of this film while browsing the Internet, and I decided to check it out from my local library as my next selection for an autism movie review. Watching the film, I felt that it shed important light on a variety of issues relating to individuals on the autism spectrum.
Jane (portrayed by Louisa Krause) is a 25-year-old woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who lives with her parents but follows her own set of specific routines. Chief among these is Jane’s hobby of watching classic romance films from the 1940’s and 1950’s, during which she recites certain lines from the characters and subsequently adopts their mannerisms when answering the phone or at certain points in a conversation.
Jane’s older sister Bianca (portrayed by Eliza Dushku) is entering a full-time acting career, lives with her fiancée Rob (portrayed by Amir Arison), and has a strongly protective streak toward Jane. Things take an unexpected turn when Bianca and Jane learn that their parents are moving to the New Jersey countryside, with the expectation that Jane will move in with Bianca and Rob. This news comes as an unpleasant shock for Bianca since she feels that Jane’s autistic proclivities will be overwhelming to deal with, especially at a time when she is just starting her career and becoming accustomed to living with Rob, and consequently she takes significant chagrin toward the increased responsibility that this development will entail.
Bianca invites Jane to a party at her apartment as part of trying to help her sister improve upon her social issues. Since Jane spends much of her time immersed in movies, this is a challenging prospect, and even though she comes to the party, she does not engage with most of the other guests but leans back against a wall and watches the scene. It is then that she meets Jack (portrayed by Gabriel Ebert), a friend of Rob’s and Bianca’s who, like Jane herself, feels isolated from the social interactions at the party, albeit for a different reason: Despite having graduated from college, he feels that he is doing nothing constructive with his life since he is still single and works as a sous-chef while others in his age group are having families and pursuing lucrative professional careers.
When Jack notices Jane mimicking his poses, he asks “You looking at me?” in the manner of Robert De Niro’s character from Taxi Driver, startling Jane and prompting her to run upstairs to the outdoor balcony. When he comes up to apologize to her, they begin a conversation in which they realize a connection between each other, until they are abruptly interrupted by Bianca who insists that Jack must have nothing to do with Jane.
Jane and Bianca subsequently engage in a heated argument during which Jane protests at being constantly shadowed by her sister while Bianca expresses her concern that no one will respect Jane for being different. However, when Jane reveals that what she really wants is a boyfriend, Bianca decides to look into finding a candidate on the autism spectrum since she believes that Jane would be best matched with someone who shares her diagnosis.
Although Bianca’s actions are well-intended, they exemplify a lack of insight which, to some degree, illustrates the biases of many neurotypical individuals toward people on the spectrum since there is a widespread assumption that they are incapable of having successful romantic relationships with those who are not autistic. According to this perception, neurotypical partners may not understand or respect the social challenges of autistic individuals, who in turn could potentially alienate the neurotypical person with their peculiar behaviors.
Furthermore, Bianca miscalculates the benefits of matching her sister with an autistic man for a date since each person on the spectrum has their own challenges which some may not necessarily relate to simply by virtue of sharing the same diagnosis. This becomes strikingly clear when the prospective candidate, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, displays a complete lack of empathy (another social challenge associated with autism) by neglecting to ask Jane anything about herself. The interaction, combined with sensory overload from observing his eating habits and hearing the numerous sounds within the restaurant, prompts Jane to have a meltdown in which she yells in panic, bumping into other customers and holding her hands to her ears until Bianca rushes to intercede. However, this only intensifies Jane’s agitation, and in their subsequent argument, she pours out her feelings that Bianca is trying to control her, does not respect her choices as a person, and does not truly want Jane to move in with her, to which Bianca tells her that dating and romances do not always happen the way they appear in movies.
Jane’s reply “They should!” illustrates the cognitive discrepancy between how autistic individuals view the world and the way in which the world actually operates: Since Jane’s understanding of romance comes chiefly from her routine of watching classic movies, she believes that it works the same way in the real world, but the disastrous first date proves her wrong.
Unbeknownst to Bianca, however, Jack has been given Jane’s phone number by Rob, although he does so with great reluctance since he feels that Jack does not fully appreciate the challenges that dating an autistic girl would entail. In spite of this, Jack eagerly contacts Jane and asks her to come out with him to the restaurant where he works. She enjoys their time together, and they subsequently attend the opening performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Bianca plays the lead role.
Seeing Jane and Jack together in the audience makes Bianca uneasy while onstage, as she is not only pessimistic about their compatibility but has also been under pressure from her obnoxiously insensitive director in the leadup to the show, so she is extremely anxious not to have her opening night become a disaster. Bianca’s anxiety only increases when she observes Jane hastily leaving the audience and being followed by Jack after trying to hold hands with her while watching the performance.
Jack’s gesture makes Jane uncomfortable since she has issues with physical touch and space as a person on the autism spectrum, which Jack is not fully mindful of despite having done some research on Asperger’s Syndrome. He follows Jane up to the theater wings to apologize for his thoughtlessness and suggests that they go back down to the audience, but Jane insists on showing him the costume room instead. It is here that a truly touching exchange takes place, as Jack tells Jane that he likes her and wants to kiss her, to which Jane replies that another boy had told her the same thing but then stopped seeing her after his friends told him about her having Asperger’s. When Jack assures her of his sincerity and asks if she would like him to kiss her, Jane replies, “I would really like that very much,” after which they share a heartfelt kiss just as the performance concludes.
This scene between Jane and Jack represents a profound development for both characters. Although Jack has previously told Rob that he does not have a problem with Jane being on the autism spectrum, he starts dating Jane without being fully cognizant of her social issues. But it is during his exchange with her in the wings and the costume room that he reveals how he genuinely accepts her for who she is, demonstrating that he will work with her challenges rather than let them be an obstacle to their relationship.
Jane, in turn, demonstrates her growth as a character in this scene by stepping out of her normal comfort zone and truly expressing her desire for intimate connection, which entails accepting how romance works in the real world rather than in the movies she watches. When Bianca learns of this development on the part of her sister, it ensures that the film’s ending will have a positive outcome in which she will have a closer relationship with Jane while accepting her relationship with Jack.
Jane Wants a Boyfriend features superb and heartfelt performances by its leading cast members, and the story articulates very moving themes about the role of family and romance in the life of an autistic individual. The importance of having a close sibling relationship is conveyed astutely in the interactions between Jane and Bianca, demonstrating that neurotypical individuals should accept the responsibility of coping with their autistic siblings’ challenges while at the same time being emotionally supportive and allowing them to pursue their lives rather than trying to micromanage them. Furthermore, the film conveys a very touching message about how acceptance and affection can make a neurotypical-autistic romantic relationship work out, with both partners experiencing significant character growth in the process.
In sum, Jane Wants a Boyfriend is a sensitive romantic and family-based drama that everyone should see.
I am an artist on the autism spectrum. I received an MA specializing in Civil War/Reconstruction history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I have been drawing hundreds of Civil War-themed pictures since the age of five and a half. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have a very focused set of interests, and the Civil War is my favorite historical event within that range of interests. It is therefore my fervent desire to become a Civil War historian and have my Civil War artwork published in an art book for children. I am also very involved in the autism community and currently serve as the President/Head Officer of Spectrum at UNCG, an organization I founded for students on the autism spectrum. The goal of the organization is to promote autism awareness and foster an inclusive community for autistic students on the UNCG campus. The group has attracted some local publicity and is steadily gaining new members, and we shall be hosting autism panels for classes on campus in the near future.