Stories about men on quests to lose their virginity have become so clichéd that it is hard not to roll your eyes whenever a new one pops up in theatres. In a world where 40 year-old virgins and pie-loving teenagers have given virginity a comedic face, it warms the heart to discover a sweet natured gem like The Special Need. A film that offers an enthralling look at one man’s difficult and daunting journey to achieve both physical and emotional intimacy.
Like most 29 year-olds, Enea is ready to find that special someone to love. Despite claiming to have girlfriends in the past, he has never been able to put “the birdie in the butterfly” so to speak. Part of this is due to the fact that Enea does not quite know how to properly woo the women he encounters. Living with autism, Enea’s earnest attempts to pick up the opposite sex come off a little too aggressive and overwhelming. Tired of seeing their pal constantly rejected, Enea’s best friends Alex and Carlo (who also directs the film) decide it is time for a change.
The three men leave their home in Italy and embark on a European road trip with the goal of getting Enea laid. A task that proves to be much harder than they originally anticipated. When prostitutes reject the idea of sleeping with a man with a mentally disability, and a trip to a sex club is not as fruitful as they hope, the men are forced to seek out more unorthodox methods of achieving their goal.
The Special Need is more than a film about losing one’s virginity. In fact, the quest for sex is secondary as it becomes apparent that what Enea really craves is love. Director Carlo Zoratti creates a beautifully honest portrait of the hardships that people with disabilities face when it comes to achieving the most basic of human desires. Despite trying hard to get into the relationship game, Enea constantly finds himself watching longingly from the sidelines.
Resisting the temptation to manipulate the film to evoke our sympathy, Zoratti’s opts to takes a more observational approach. This is a wise decision as it allows Enea’s natural charisma to radiate off the screen. Whether he is talking about his magazine dream girl or trying to wrap his head around how to conduct a less forward conversation with women, Enea is one of the most endearing characters you will see on screen this year. His earnestness ultimately makes his journey even more heartbreaking.
Though he documents the agony Enea endures, Zoratti is not above examining his own role in all of this. The Special Need poses an interesting question regarding whether or not Alex and Carlo’s goal of getting Enea laid will actually benefit Enea in the long term? Sure it may put a temporary band-aid on the issue, but does it really fix the gaping emotional wound in his heart. This is brilliantly encapsulated in one scene where the three men, while stuck in traffic, silently contemplate the odds of Enea finding love.
Fortunately, like most of the tear-jerking scenes in the film, Enea’s personality breaks the somber mood at just the right moment. Like Enea himself, The Special Need is ultimately an optimistic tale that manages to genuinely pull at your heartstrings. Zoratti brings a charming face to virginity while still respecting his subject matter. Whether the men achieve their goal is only a small fraction of the story. It is what each of them learns on the journey that makes The Special Need one of the year’s hidden gems.
Sunday, April 27, 6:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Monday, April 28, 1:00 PM, ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 4, 9:00 PM, Isabel BaderTheatre