Dina

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Dina - An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
"What emerges is a warm profile of two people who love each other, working a damned sight harder than many neurotypical couples to get over the humps in the road."

"I'm nervous of the unexpected," says Dina near the start of this Sundance-winning documentary snapshot of her life. We quickly learn that she and many of her network of friends are neurodivergent and that she and her fiance Scott are on the autism spectrum, but as we will come to understand later, she has also had experiences in her life that would make just about any one of us nervous in certain situations.

That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of this documentary, which tracks Dina and Scott in the run-up to their wedding. While it acknowledges that they have their own distinct issues that neurotypical couples don't have to navigate, it also allows us to see the essential normality of their relationship, as they deal with the range of problems many of us face, even if it is in their own distinctive style.

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Dan Sickles, who has known Dina since he was a child (although it isn't mentioned within the documentary) and co-director Antonio Santini take a respectful approach to the couple, using middle distance and wide locked-off shots - sometimes even heading outside the house to look in through a window - to give a sense not just of what they are saying but the physical way in which they interact.

What emerges is a warm profile of two people who love each other, working a damned sight harder than many neurotypical couples to get over the humps in the road. Take a trip to the beach, for example. Dina is very excited but it's obvious from their first moments on the bus that this journey into the unknown is a definite challenge for Scott, who feels the anxiety of going to a new place. Or the moment later that day, when she, in a bid to move the physical side of their relationship along, presents him excitedly with a copy of The Joy Of Sex. "Twelve million copies sold," he says. It's a blackly funny moment, but also very poignant, as we can see that Dina's need for physical connection is different to that experienced by Scott. But where neurotypical couples might just bottle this stuff up, Dina and Scott are determined, with Scott often talking about "trying to learn" and Dina also referring to "working on that".

This documentary really gives a sense of just what hard 'work' this can be for people with Asperger's. It takes a lot of energy and it's a mark of their love for one another that they both seem to have boundless supplies of it when it comes to trying to understand the other person, even when they find what is being (not) said or (not) done hurtful. Sometimes it seems incredible that they can be so natural around the camera even in cramped spaces. But, as one exchange in which Dina outlines her problems with Scott to a couple of friends while he is standing not three feet from her shows, there's a blunt matter-of-factness to their interactions unfettered by NT social cues, so a lens is likely to matter even less.

This documentary is funny, but also sad and even harrowing in places - and the approach is as straightforward as Dina's approach to life. We are invited to share these moments with her and Scott as friends might, to laugh with them not at them and to hope for that their 'ever after' is a happy one.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2017
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An unconventional love story.

Director: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini

Year: 2017

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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