MRR Movie Review: Flying Lessons

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With her life at a crossroads, Sophie Conway (Maggie Grace) returns home to the small town she always wanted to forget. Once there, she's faced with the friends and lovers she left behind, a tangled relationship with her mother, and Harry Pleasant (Hal Halbrook), an Alzheimer's Disease patient who, in an opposing way, shares Sophie's struggle to remember.
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Movie Review: "Flying Lessons"

-- Rating: R
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: December 7, 2012
Directed By: Derek Magyar
Genre: Drama

"Flying Lessons" premiered at the 2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the film finally makes its way to a larger audience with a DVD release. Starring Maggie Grace ("Taken"), the film tells the story of a young woman who returns to her hometown to discover that things changed since she left.

Sophie Conway (Grace) suffered a string of bad luck, and she finds herself caught between her current life and the life that she wants. She makes the decision to move back to her former hometown, despite having a complicated relationship with her mother Carolyn (Christine Lahti, "Chicago Hope"). Sophie quickly discovers that things are not the way she remembered, and that her former friends have different memories of the past.

Sophie forms a relationship with Harry Pleasant (Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"), a man who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and has troubles remembering those around him. This relationship is what carries the film forward, showing the struggles that each character faces. As Sophie tries to find a link between the way her former friends now treat her and the past, Harry tries to tell those in his life how he feels before it's too late.

"Flying Lessons" is far from a light film with a happy ending. Director Derek Magyar ("Boy Culture") makes it clear from the opening scenes that this is a dark film. The film opens with a scene set inside a darkened nightclub with neon lights flashing in the background and loud music pumping from the screen. Sophie appears, stumbling through the club until she manages to escape to the outside world. The jump between the club and the natural sunlight outside is a jarring one, but the scene shows the difference between Sophie's two lives. The natural sunlight seemingly serves as a reminder of what her life was once like.

The director also does a smart job of introducing Holbrook early in the film. Harry is a former police officer who worked in Sophie's hometown. As Sophie makes her way back, the director shows a few scenes of Harry's life, drawing an instant comparison between the two characters. Once she arrives in town and begins working for Harry, the two quickly form a bond that lasts until the end of the film.

Pairing Grace with the talented Holbrook does a disservice to the film. Though both worked in film and television, Holbrook can act circles around Grace. He creates a lightness to an otherwise dark character, showing that Harry carries what little memories he has left in his heart. Grace seems almost confused at times, and it is clear that she doesn't have the acting chops for a film of this type.

The director brought in a few supporting actors who help the film along. Grace has nice chemistry with the actor playing her former boyfriend Jonathon Tucker ("The Ruins"). The two play off each other, creating a believable relationship that viewers will appreciate. Their scenes show that Sophie truly wants to change and that she misses the friendships and relationships that she once had.

Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") also appears in the film, and his role shows how much talent the actor has. Though he recently appeared in a string of films that went straight to DVD, Elwes will remind viewers of the talent that he once showed on the big screen. The film also makes use of other strong supporting actors, including Rick Gonzales ("War of the Worlds") and Joanna Cassidy ("Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead").

"Flying Lessons" explains that the title of the film relates to the problems that everyone faces in life. Holbrook reiterates that at the end of the film. As the credits begin rolling across the screen, his voice booms, "How is a man supposed to fly? When he's got anger on his side... How will he live for tomorrow?" The film wants to push boundaries and ask viewers to think about their own lives. The only problem is that it sometimes doesn't do that.

While "Flying Lessons" has some strong acting and an interesting plot, it tends to lag at times, especially in the middle. Some viewers might find themselves glancing at their watches or wishing that the characters would do something. Sophie makes it clear that she wants to mend the broken relationships in her life, but she spends much of the film pouting and whining as she wonders what she can do to change things. "Flying Lessons" is a solid film that would benefit from letting the main character take back her life earlier in the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5