"The Boy Who Could Fly" (selected theaters) is as fragile as a kite, yet it's kept aloft by the commitment of writer-director Nick Castle and the talent and presence of lovely young Lucy Deakins, who has that crucial gift of catching us up in her imagination.
In her feature debut, she plays Milly, the steady, supportive 14-year-old daughter of the recently widowed Charlene (Bonnie Bedelia). Mother, daughter and irrepressible 8-year-old little brother Louis (Fred Savage) have just moved to a pleasant but shabby old home in a small city where Charlene has the promise of a job.
As the family adjusts to its new, less affluent and unfamiliar circumstances, Milly becomes intrigued with an unusual neighbor, Eric (Jay Underwood, very expressive in a difficult role), who's her age and who spends much of his time sitting on his bedroom windowsill, waving his arms, pretending to be flying. Not much is known for certain about Eric, but apparently he hasn't spoken since his parents were killed in an airplane crash when he was 5. Since then, he's lived with his alcoholic uncle (Fred Gwynne) in a virtually autistic state.
As "The Boy Who Could Fly" unfolds, Castle carefully plants the notion that maybe, just maybe, Eric really can fly--even if nobody has seen him do it. Now perhaps if Milly can just break through to Eric, he in turn could give hope to her and her family at a difficult juncture in their lives. . . .
For all his skill with uplift--you should pardon the expression--Castle does weigh himself down unnecessarily with a number of distracting details and a running time of 114 minutes.
It's more disturbing than amusing, for example, for the precocious Louis to come on as a mini-Rambo, complete with a "Kill 'em All" T-shirt and authentic-looking toy rifle. And realistically, he would have been taken away from the uncle ages ago, despite the concerned, responsible attention of a wise teacher (Colleen Dewhurst). Now and then the film smacks of outright contrivance, and Bruce Broughton's grandiose, derivative "E.T." score is no help.
Yet Castle, whose previous film was the somewhat similar "Last Starfighter," has made Bedelia, Deakins and Savage into a convincing family faced with real, everyday challenges. What's more, he's lined up substantial supporting players to provide firm anchor to his flights of fancy. Along with Dewhurst and Gwynne, there's Janet MacLachlan as another concerned teacher, Louise Fletcher as a sympathetic psychiatrist and newcomer Mindy Cohn as Milly's plump, nosy new friend.
But "The Boy Who Could Fly" (rated PG but solid family fare) takes off primarily because in being able to believe in Lucy Deakins' Milly, we're able to go along with--or at least not reject out of hand--all the rest.
'THE BOY WHO COULD FLY'
A 20th Century Fox release of a Lorimar production. Producer Gary Adelson. Writer-director Nick Castle. Camera Steven Poster, Adam Holender. Music Bruce Broughton. Production designer Jim Bissell. Associate producer Brian Frankish. Co-producer Richard Vane. Visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. Costumes Trish Keaton. Film editor Patrick Kennedy. With Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood, Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Savage, Colleen Dewhurst, Fred Gwynne, Mindy Cohn, Janet MacLachlan, Louise Fletcher.