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By Mark Bell | November 19, 2012

Single mother Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is approaching a significant crossroads in her life. Jeanne’s developmentally disabled, autistic daughter Mandy (Ashley Rickards) is now 16 years old, and the dynamic within the family unit is becoming strained by the fact that Mandy is outgrowing Jeanne’s ability to care for her. Or so that’s what everyone keeps saying, such as Jeanne’s ex-husband Peter (JR Bourne) or the the principal of Mandy’s school, who feel it is time for Mandy to go to a school or live in a home where she can get the proper attention and help she’ll need to fend for herself one day, when Jeanne is no longer around for her.

Janet Grillo’s Fly Away is a powerful drama about one mother’s love and drive to do right by her daughter, and ultimately herself. The performances by all involved are stellar from start to finish, and the film tackles a tough subject with all the reverence and care one would hope to see in a film like this. Everything about it works, and I really only have one issue, which I’ll express in a minute.

First off, however, the performances. Beth Broderick is strength-and-defiance-powered-by-love personified. Never for a second did I not see her as someone who is doing all she can for the daughter she loves, even as she becomes overwhelmed. A sequence where we get to see the physical toll the events in the film have taken on Jeanne is as hard-breaking as it was inevitable; once Mandy is a match for Jeanne in size and strength, it doesn’t matter whether Mandy’s actions are innocent in intention or not, they can have very real physical implications. And thus the film tackles a very emotional and conflicted moment of what it means when a parent living solely for their children suddenly has to contemplate what might be best for their own quality of life too.

Which brings us to Ashley Rickards’ Mandy, who is dealing with all the same hormones and confusion any 16 year old girl would be working through. Even in Mandy’s fits or moments, it is universally relatable. When I was a teenager, I had moments where I felt emotionally on the inside the way Mandy acts out, and that’s really the only difference there. This is important, because I feel like there are ways to perform as a developmentally disabled character that do more to separate that character from the real world than to place them firmly in it, and that can lead to very different film experiences. Rickards’ Mandy is more real in her portrayal and, for that reason, more powerful.

Again, though, everyone is solid in this film. Greg Germann puts in a strong performance as a potential love interest for Jeanne. Even JR Bourne, as Mandy’s father and Jeanne’s ex-husband, is sympathetic and understandable, even as he pushes Jeanne to finally make the decision to move Mandy to a school or home where she can get more attention and care.

So it’s all roses, right? Didn’t I mention a gripe? Yes, and my only issue with the film is the ending, which was a bit too abrupt for my tastes. Still, I understand the decision for the way it wraps up enough to not be that upset by it. If you accept that the film is about Jeanne’s journey, and the main conflict is the decision Jeanne has to make about Mandy’s future, then to have a film end where it does is not odd at all. Sure, people like me might want to see more from that point on, but it is unnecessary so… it works as it is, and there is a power to how it wraps up. And me wanting more is not a bad thing.

Overall, Fly Away feels like a very respectful representation of the real life difficulties, joys and decisions of many parents raising a developmentally disabled child growing ever-rapidly into adulthood. To the film’s credit, regardless of what decision Jeanne makes at the end, you never for a second doubt that it was made out of love and with the best of intentions for her daughter.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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  1. Janet Grillo says:

    Thank you so very much for your appreciation of the intention and meaning of our “little film that could.” We made FLY AWAY as a mission of the heart, on a SAG Ultra Low budget, shot in 14 days. We were honored to premiere it as 1 of 8 features in Dramatic Competition at SXSW in 2011, We continue in distribution in USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand on iTunes and Amazon.

    As the mother of a child on the Spectrum, this film is personal, although not autobiographical. I was honored and privileged to collaborate with a remarkable cast and crew, which became a family during the process. We all appreciate FILM THREAT’s support in spreading the word about FLY AWAY. Tiny indie films like ours rely upon the kindness of strangers! Thank you for yours.

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