Promoted in large part by Autism Speaks, which receives a portion of all DVD sales and Video on Demand viewing fees, there is no doubt that "Fly Away" will be discovered and embraced by those with a direct connection with autism. However, this brief and matter-of-fact film deserves a wider audience--so hopefully those that champion small independent films will help to build an awareness of this well meaning examination of mother love and sacrifice. The film presents a gritty and realistic look at the challenges that those with severe autism face as well as the repercussions the disease has on their immediate caregivers. And while not perfect--some minor roles are a bit heavy handed and there are a few issues in narrative flow--"Fly Away" is about as realistic as can be at the level of family intimacy and is bolstered by strong lead performances.
Janet Grillo's film chronicles an uncomfortable transitional period--when an afflicted girl is no longer a child, yet still maintains a childlike existence. Ashley Rickards plays the burgeoning woman whose frustrations have caused her to increasingly lash out at school and at home. Beth Broderick is a mother whose life is dedicated to her daughter, but who must make some hard choices about the future. When is it time to let go and entrust your child's well-being to others? She has subjugated her own independence and chance at happiness--yet when a new romantic interest as well as a new educational opportunity for Rickards coincide, it just might be time for some serious thought. Broderick wrestles with what would be best for everyone, but there are no easy answers and bright outlooks. Through it all, the film maintains a central realism as opposed to going for overwrought drama--and the choice is quietly effective.
Rickards does well capturing the enthusiasm, confusion, and frustration battling for domain over her body and mind. But, in many ways, the film belongs to Broderick. I remember first seeing Broderick in the mid-eighties (yes, I know that dates me) and liking her--and in the next 25 years, she was oftentimes the brightest spot in some pretty dismal entertainment. Finally, she has a role worthy of her. Exceptionally understated, you can always see the gears moving behind her eyes. It's a compelling, thoughtful, and surprisingly introspective performance that might have veered toward melodrama in other hands. All in all, this is both a sweet and sad movie and certainly not without hope. The film might feel incredibly personal if your family has struggled with autism--but there is also much to recommend it for a general audience. KGHarris, 4/11.