Movie review: ‘Dina’ makes bold statement about romance
Autism meets “The Joy of Sex” in the award-winning documentary “Dina.” Yes, you read that right, and it’s about time the two came together in a serious — yet often funny — way. For that, we have Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles to thank. With cameras in tow, the two filmmakers immerse us in the inspiring life of Dina Buno, a 48-year-old woman with Asperger’s, as she allows herself a third attempt at happiness.
Considering her first two tries ended in death and attempted murder, Dina really has nowhere to go but up with her new beau, Scott Levin, a naive, slightly younger man who’s a bit behind her on the autistic spectrum. We meet the couple in the waning days before their nuptials in Philadelphia. Given that Dina has been married before, she’s relaxed and well aware of what a partnership entails, including sex. But not Scott. He’s what you’d call petrified over what the wedding night might unveil.
Here’s where Alex Comfort’s 1972 sex manual comes into view. It’s a present Dina gives to Scott during a weekend trip to the Jersey Shore. Where Dina is eager to discuss the book’s contents while they sit on a bench overlooking the ocean, Scott becomes a bit sheepish and starts to squirm. And so do you — but for vastly different reasons. You want to laugh at Scott’s virginity “problem,” but you feel guilty doing so. And you ask yourself why? Is it because he’s afflicted with autism?
Of course it is, and that’s the very stigma the filmmakers are out to remove in making a bold statement about how people with autism are no different than so-called “normal” folks. So, it’s OK to laugh, just as it’s all right to wonder if Dina and Scott are really suited for each other.
You see, Dina craves passion and intimacy, two things that scare the bejesus out of Scott, who must regularly be coaxed to cuddle or kiss on the lips, much to Dina’s frustration. What Scott does do right is in meeting Dina’s two most sought after traits — honesty and respect. Yet, we rarely see any sparks, at least the kind you’d expect to see in a film that describes itself as a romantic comedy. Truth be told, they’re rather dull together, which makes Dina’s time spent with her feisty mother a constant source of enjoyment. Both can talk up a storm, and the love between them is electric, causing you to wish Dina and Scott could be the same.
But you can’t fault the movie — winner of the Grand Jury Prize at January’s Sundance Film Festival — for its high degree of intimacy. The access Santini and Sickles, a long-time family friend, gain is astounding. But it often feels too manipulated, as is the case every time we see Dina and Scott retiring to their bed in Dina’s tiny, store-top apartment. Is this really how they would act if the cameras weren’t there? It’s the same when we watch both of them dressing, or even more suspiciously, when the camera invades their sex-themed honeymoon suite in the Poconos. And, is it just a coincidence that Dina is a huge fan of (faux) reality shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”?
Such lapses diminish the movie’s genuineness, but they don’t detract from the message, which is: That romance, no matter what your mental capacity might be, is something beautiful. It’s also a necessity for a woman like Dina, who has every reason to be mad at the world, yet soldiers on fueled by the unwavering belief that love conquers all.
A documentary by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles featuring Dina Buno and Scott Levin.