Is letting go the best treatment?
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, April 15, 2011
Many parents can at least partially commiserate with “Fly Away” protagonist Jeanne, who has her hands full with her daughter. Mandy doesn’t sleep through the night, throws regular tantrums and yells “I hate you” when she doesn’t get her way. But Mandy isn’t going through the terrible twos. She’s 15 years old, and she’s autistic.
It’s an affecting premise, especially since Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is a single mother with a superhuman to-do list. The movie unfolds like “Groundhog Day,” except the daily routine is far more exhausting. Since she’s up every night singing her daughter back to sleep, Jeanne routinely sleeps through her alarm clock, which means Mandy (Ashley Rickards) misses her bus. Since Jeanne has to drive Mandy to school, she’s falling behind at work, which is further complicated by Mandy’s habit of deleting important computer files. There’s also a dog involved, a helpless ex-husband and a persistent love interest. With so much going on, Jeanne can’t seem to do anything exactly right.
There could be an end in sight, though, which is the main dilemma at the heart of this drama. Everyone around Jeanne, from Mandy’s principal to the aforementioned ex, wants her to put Mandy in a special hospital. And Jeanne’s staunch refusal is a thought-provoking one; clearly this mother would give up everything for her daughter, but is that the best thing to do for any of the involved parties?
When it comes to demonstrating the difficulties of raising a severely autistic child, “Fly Away” succeeds. Watching Jeanne try to balance all of her responsibilities practically requires blood pressure medication. And she’s a sympathetic character, if for no other reason than her saintly patience, which she maintains even when, night after night, she awakes to hear her daughter screaming “bad girl” or when Mandy takes out her aggression through punching and biting.
The impact of the story is a bit tempered by acting that feels wooden, questionable use of slow-mo and a predictable turn of events. In some ways, “Fly Away” seems more like a Lifetime movie than a big-screen release.
Even so, there are lessons worth celebrating that revolve around when a parent should or shouldn’t let go, and how asking for help isn’t just acceptable; sometimes it’s the best course of action.
Contains strong language and some mild violence.