FLY AWAY HOME (1996) (Movie Review)

As we all quarantine and socially distance ourselves during this time of Coronavirus uncertainty, here’s the one at-home movie recommendation I have for literally everyone:

Fly Away Home, from 1996.

This amazing story (based on an autobiography!) is the kind that rips your heart open and then heals it — both in its overall arc as well as in numerous little arcs along the way — and does it so tenderly.

Fly Away Home is a loving father/daughter story about two people who are brought back together by tragedy (played beautifully by Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin). They need to learn to trust each other, and their struggle is set against the backdrop of loss.

The premise – in which displaced newborn geese are nurtured by a tween-age girl until they are able to take flight – is also the film’s poignant metaphor, about the fragility of the heart during grief and what it takes to heal and be whole again.

At its core, Fly Away Home asks that eternal yearning question for anyone who grieves: “Why did this have to happen?” Wisely, the movie doesn’t provide an answer. Instead, it offers something even better: catharsis.

From director Carroll Ballard (of the classic The Black Stallion), with gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel that earned him an Academy Award nomination, the flying footage was shot practically rather than with CGI geese, an authenticity that enhances the film’s emotional power and would be undercut by today’s digital reliance. Plus, there’s Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s powerfully effective ballad “10,000 Miles” that underscores the movie’s bookends.

In key ways, Fly Away Home is a spiritual cousin to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Each is about a child overwhelmed by loss and change. Their hearts have been torn apart, now hurting and drifting, and need a new place – a new connection – where that love can be expressed again. For Elliott, it was found in an alien. For Amy, it’s baby geese.

And for both, they must pour all of their love into these new friends in order to help them find their way home…only to have to let them go by journey’s end.

Watching it again for the first time in so many years (thanks Criterion Channel, you’re a cinephile’s streaming service dream), I blubbered my way through it, at times with such sobs that I can’t even fully explain or articulate where they came from.

Not everyone will respond in the same extreme way that I did, but its spirit will make your heart full and restore whatever hope you may be losing in these (or any) anxious times – hope for renewal, for healing, for family, and for our shared humanity.

(Along with the Criterion Channel, you can rent Fly Away Home through most VOD outlets or watch it for free with ads via IMDb TV on Amazon Prime, even if you’re not a Prime member.)

Leave a Reply