Boy Who Could Fly, The (1986)

“Sometimes we need to believe in a little magic, especially when there’s so much pain.”

Synopsis:
After moving to a new town with her widowed mother (Bonnie Bedelia) and younger brother (Fred Savage), a teenage girl (Lucy Deakins) befriends and falls in love with her mute neighbor (Jay Underwood), who has believed he can fly ever since his parents died in a plane crash when he was five.

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Review:
Although it was well-received upon its release, this quirky ’80s teen romance will primarily be of interest to those who remember enjoying it years ago — especially one-time teenage boys who had a crush on beautiful 15-year-old Deakins (who looks remarkably like her screen mother, Bonnie Bedelia). The storyline, while sensitively handled in most cases, follows an overly worn path in showing how Deakins and her grieving family adjust to life in a new town: Savage (before his breakthrough fame on “The Wonder Years”) deals with predictably menacing neighborhood bullies who won’t let him ride his bike around the corner; Deakins longs from afar to be part of the predictably hip “in crowd” at school; and Bedelia (predictably) struggles to adapt to working life after 13 years away (she’s absolutely flummoxed by the introduction of computers into the insurance business).

The major selling point of the film is Deakins’ relationship with Underwood, which is touching, but leaves one with too many questions left unanswered about Underwood’s situation and supposed special abilities. His character is referred to as “autistic”, but doesn’t necessarily display characteristic signs of this, instead apparently suffering from selective mutism and emotional disturbance after his parents’ untimely death. (Could this gaffe be a function of autism only recently being better understood?) Meanwhile, his alcoholic caretaking uncle (Fred Gwynne, playing his role as a caricature) claims to have seen his nephew fly, but he’s clearly about as unreliable a witness as one could muster. Underwood’s number one fan appears to be a kind and understanding English teacher (Colleen Dewhurst), but her role is severely underwritten, and we never understand exactly how or why she’s come to play such a critical part in his welfare.

Eventually, writer/director Nick Castle chooses to turn Underwood’s situation into an actual fantasy rather than an exploration of his troubled inner fantasy-life, which may have thrilled audiences at the time (the special effects enhance the film’s romantic potential) but is ultimately the less satisfying choice. While I hate to be a grinch, I can’t agree with Peary’s assessment of this one as a Personal Recommendation.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lucy Deakins as Milly
  • Bonnie Bedelia as Charlene

Must See?
No; this one will primarily be of interest to viewers who remember it fondly from their youth. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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