Dina Buno and Scott Levin in Dina (The Orchard)

The most gripping scene in Dina takes place when both of the documentary’s central figures have walked off screen. That’s a measure of the gentle impact of the film, an empathetic but ultimately low-stakes look at the courtship and marriage of two neurologically challenged, middle-aged individuals in suburban Philadelphia.

Dina Buno has undergone abuse and widowhood, but she’s ready to give love another chance with Scott Levin, an autistic Walmart greeter. Co-director Dan Sickles has a longtime family bond with Dina, so he enjoys intimate access to the unfolding of her life. We see Dina and Scott moving in together, vacationing at the shore, and preparing for their wedding in scenes that sometimes feel natural and at other times come off scripted and too conveniently caught on camera.

The film may perform a valuable service in normalizing Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. Dina and Scott have issues and problems all of us can recognize. Dina argues with her mother and gets scared at the dentist. Scott bungles protocol by buying Dina’s wedding dress. Like so many heterosexual women in the mainstream population, Dina longs for her partner to be bold and romantic; while the mild-mannered, dithering Scott is no Romeo, he at least listens and states his desire to pitch a hotter brand of woo so Dina will be happy.

These are all manageable travails, articulated by the high-strung and loveable Dina. With by and large supportive families, a reliable network of friends, and no obvious money problems, Dina and Scott seem to have things pretty darn good. Dina faced violence and struggle, but we only hear about it in the past. Mental illness is notoriously tough in America, and U.S. jails are full of mentally ill people desperately needing help, but this movie offers another point of view: a fair-minded, even-handed look at the challenges of mental illness, just not a wildly dramatic one.

One not-entirely-pleasant thought may arise in the course of watching such an affirming production. When filmmakers dwell endlessly on the cartoonish clutter of blue-collar interiors and the cheesy décor at a Poconos honeymoon hotel, it can feel like a kind of voyeuristic slumming served up to the likely upper-class viewers of the film. A debatable qualm, but it is there. Perhaps the slightness of the film allows secondary misgivings to come to the surface more prominently than they ought to.

Directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles
Released by the Orchard
USA. 103 min. Not rated