Fly Away Home

on September 13, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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With Carroll Ballard at the helm, Caleb Deschanel ("The Natural") handling cinematography and Mark Isham ("A River Runs Through It") doing the score, "Fly Away Home" has cinematic quality written all over it. What this story of a young Kiwi-raised girl, Amy ("Jane Eyre's" Anna Paquin)--who must come to terms with the loss of her dead mother and the sudden presence of a long-absent Canadian father (Jeff Daniels)--lacks within it is a persuasive dramatic presentation of its emotional themes.
   As in "The Black Stallion," "Never Cry Wolf" and even his saggy "Wind," Ballard is on sure soil when he's dealing with pure imagery; if any contemporary filmmaker deserved to live during the silent era, it's this director. When the poor dialogue and forced scenes by scripters Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin ebb, "Fly Away Home" soars like the (symbolically) orphaned geese that young-teen Amy gives shelter. (Note: Amy learns to solo-pilot an ultralight craft to lead her geese cross-country to a winter home; the studio canceled a planned spring release when a too-similar real-life flight ended in tragedy.)
   The acting corps provides uneven help. As the long-haired artist/aviator father trying to wing his way back into his daughter's heart, Daniels is so ineffective at what should be heart-rending that one would never guess at the parentage if the story didn't insist on it; as his girlfriend, Dana Delany is relegated to providing questionable counsel, the better for the film to triumph over. Still developing as an actress, Paquin like her director excels with look, falters with line. A final disappointment: The film closes with a title-card update on the girl's geese, to produce (at last) a swell of real feeling--that evaporates when the closing credits disclose "Fly Away Home" is invention. Starring Anna Paquin, Jeff Daniels and Dana Delany. Directed by Carroll Ballard. Written by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin. Produced by John Veitch and Carol Baum. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated PG for an opening accident scene and some mild language. Running time: 96 min.
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