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THE BOY WHO COULD FLY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood, Fred Savage, Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Gwynne, Colleen Dewhurst, Louise Fletcher
Director:  Nick Castle
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  108 Minutes
Release Date:  July 8, 2003

ďMaybe if you wish hard enough and love long enough, anythingís possible.Ē

Film ****

The Boy Who Could Fly is like a Phoenix that soars up from the ashes of sorrows.  Itís a wonderful fantasy so deeply rooted in the reality of loss and sadness that it earns every moment that defies belief.  It challenges the coldest and most cynical of hearts to scoff rather than to melt.  Most of all, it finds that part of you that you probably thought didnít exist anymoreÖthat childlike wonder that makes you want to embrace a miracle rather than discredit it.

It starts with terrific parts and ends up something bigger than their sum total:  one visionary writer/director in Nick Castle, who made one of the most worthwhile family films ever by blending the bare hearted sentiment of Frank Capra into a world where there are real cares, troubles, and heartaches.  Add three veteran character actors in Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Gwynne and Colleen Dewhurst, and you have a solid foundation.  Finish with three incredible young newcomers in Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood and Fred Savage (even younger than you remember), and you have the spirit needed to lift off and soar through the clouds.

When Milly (Deakins), her younger brother Louis (Savage) and her mom (Bedelia) arrive at their new home, itís to start a new chapter in their lives after the death of the father.  It doesnít take long for Milly to spot her next door neighbor, Eric (Underwood), who sits silently outside his second story bedroom window for hours at a time, with arms outstretched, pretending to fly.

Eric has been labeled autistic.  Heís never spoken a word.  He shies away from all people.  When he was five, his parents died in a plane crash.  And somehow, he knew it was happening.  It was the first time he went to his window and pretended to be an airplane.  And heíd been doing it ever since.

While her mother struggles with re-entering a new computerized workforce, and her frequently troubled brother having school and bully problems, Milly ends up befriending Eric at the bequest of her teacher (Dewhurst).  For all Eric has left is his alcoholic Uncle Hugo (Gwynne), and there is real fear that Eric will be taken away to somewhere that will stifle whatever remaining spark he has left.

All characters in this film have to deal with loss and death before they can proceed with life.  There are scenes of pure and honest heartbreak and real tears.  Those are all part of being alive.

But so are love, hope and dreaming.  And soon, Milly comes to believe thereís a lot more to Eric than he shows the world.  In fact, there may be something miraculous.

I was 16 years old when I first saw this movie, and I embraced it with a love thatís never left me.  It remains one of the few films I know that can still smooth away the cynical edges made jagged by adulthood.  Itís a motion picture that boldly suggests the absurdly impossible, while sweetly reminding us that believing in the absurdly impossible is one of the things that gets us through life.

I have praises all around for this film, but my biggest ones are reserved for the three young stars.  Fred Savage would of course go on to do other great work, but he demonstrated in his first major role that he was more than just another cute kid in cinema.  And Jay Underwood, who spends most of the film mute, brings life and heart into a character thatís unique and memorable.  He lives in his own shell and yet we still feel close to himÖthatís remarkable.

But my heart always has gone out mostly to Lucy Deakins, whom I first saw originating the role of Lily Walsh on As the World Turns and whom I considered to be one of the most promising young screen talents Iíd seen.  Strong, capable and impossibly pretty, I still canít help but feel it was our loss as movie lovers that her career in the years that followed was rather quiet.  This is a hard movie for a young person to carry with emotional conviction and honesty, and her work was a beautiful revelation.

Family movies donít need wizards and witches, pocket monsters or chocolate factoriesÖnot if it has a genuine story to tell and isnít afraid to seek out the reclusive parts of the human heart that make us all willing to believe.  The Boy Who Could Fly is magic.

BONUS TRIVIA: Look for a very young Jason Priestly hanging out in a small role!

Video **

This anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros. is hit and miss.  Some scenes look rich and beautiful, with strong colors and detail, while others look a bit soft and compressed, with noticeable haziness and slight touches of grain.  Good enough overall, but could have been better.

Audio **

The audio is listenable, but surprisingly lifeless, despite one of the 80s prettiest and underrated scores by Bruce Broughton.  Dialogue is sometimes so quiet that youíll have to compensate with the volume knob.  Though the box purports a surround signal, I canít say I noticed any rear stage action, but I didnít particularly miss it.  A little more care in this department could have worked wonders.

Features ***

This disc boasts a superb commentary track that reunites writer/director Nick Castle with his three amazing young stars, Jay Underwood, Lucy Deakins and Fred Savage.  Like the movie itself, the track is warm, offers great chemistry and feels like a lovely trip down memory lane.  There is also an on-camera introduction by Castle and Underwood (which reminded me, he played Sonny Bono in a recent television movie!), plus a trailer and talent files.  Two print errors on the box:  Ms. Deakins is not in the new introduction, and Bonnie Bedelia is not on the commentary track.

Summary:

Chalk this one up as one of my most wished-for titles finally making it to DVD.  The Boy Who Could Fly is a film everyone should experience at least onceÖand if you have a family of your own, itís an absolute must-see.