"Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist," wrote David Ben-Gurion. Here is a family film with rounded, appealing, and vulnerable characters who triumph over a set of personal difficulties and leave us with a renewed belief in miracles. Here also is a feel-good movie about a teenager who cares deeply about another person and in the process, experiences the renewal of her mind and spirit. The Boy Who Could Fly will take you to places inside yourself you've forgotten or never visited before. It was one of the best films of 1986.
Milly Michaelson, who is fourteen years old, her younger brother Louis, and her mother Charlene have just moved into a new house following Mr. Michaelson's tragic death. The burdens of housekeeping and looking after her brother fall on Milly's shoulders.
Her next-door neighbor is Eric, a teenager who hasn't spoken a word since his parents died in a plane crash when he was five years old. He lives with his Uncle Hugo, an alcoholic. Mrs. Sherman, a teacher at the high school, allows him to sit in the classroom and participate in recreational activities.
Milly takes a liking to Eric and is very gratified — given his isolation from others — when he responds warmly to her. Each day he sits perched on the windowsill of his bedroom. Eric is convinced he can fly. Milly begins a day-by-day diary of her attempts to break into Eric's private world. Both she and Mrs. Sherman believe that Eric is a very special person.
Meanwhile, Charlene is depressed over being demoted at work after failing to master computers. Young Louis is having problems at school, and his only companions are his dog Max and some 60 toy soldiers. Several bullies in the neighborhood harass him regularly.
When inner conflicts become oppressive, when outer pressures are excessive, we cling to the buoyancy and safety of our dreams. At a school outing, Milly falls off a bridge and is hurt. At the hospital, Dr. Granada, a psychiatrist, is taken aback when Milly tells her that Eric can really fly and that he saved her life in the accident. Dr. Granada tells her: "Sometimes we need to believe there's a little magic in life. Especially when there's a lot of pain. It's normal."
One of the very satisfying pleasures about this outstanding film written and directed by Nick Castle (The Last Star Fighter) is the realistic way he captures and conveys the struggles of the troubled Michaelson family and the anguish of an exceptional child who is trapped in a lonely and deprived world. Lucy Deakins and Jay Underwood, the two young actors who play Milly and Eric, give nuanced and emotionally affecting performances. Fred Savage as little Louis is a marvel, a kid whose strategy for coping with his father's death is both grim and comically engaging. The adults in The Boy Who Could Fly add breadth and depth to the story: Bonnie Bedelia's careworn working mother; Colleen Dewhurst's sensitive Mrs. Sherman, an advocate of mainstreaming; Louise Fletcher's Dr. Granada, a sympathetic therapist; and Fred Gwynne's Uncle Hugo, a loving guardian who is battling his own demons.
The sweet, uplifting and thoroughly spellbinding finale of The Boy Who Could Fly reminds us of the unsuspected resources residing in us waiting to be tapped. The real and relentless fears that hobble us and keep us down can be overcome. For, as Mrs. Sherman proclaims, "Maybe if you wish long enough and love long enough, anything is possible."