If you are tempted to skip movies about terminal illness, don't skip this one.
The Theory of Flight is an oddly affecting movie. Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter have managed to turn a forbidding premise into a touching romantic comedy by creating two appealing and decidedly unconventional characters. It's quite a feat considering that one of them is dying. If you are tempted to skip movies about terminal illness, don't skip this one.
Consider: A man who wants to fly is arrested for a winged jump off the roof of a building. The judge sentences him to community service: specifically, to care for a woman dying of a motor neuron disease. His essential purity and her determination to experience adventure and physical love before she dies lead to a joyful collusion that rewards both of them on many levels. He is as needy as she.
Richard (Kenneth Branagh) wants to fly, and only a machine made by his own hands will do. We know little of his other life, if indeed he has one, but we do know that most of it is spent in a rented hanger, in which he is constructing the plane that will lift him off the earth, where he functions so awkwardly. Jane (Helena Bonham Carter) is 25 and in the late stages of losing both movement and speech. Wheelchair-bound and slurring her words, she lures her new companion into a conspiracy of joy. They will fly.
Jane's sensitivity to Richard's folly is deep. "It's beautiful," she says when she first sees the plane he has built. "Thank you," he replies. And that is almost all that needs be said about this movie. Two people with unusual needs understand what each is trying to do, and they help each other.
As she looks at Richard's dream, Jane sees elegance where others see folly. In turn, she has a project she can't accomplish without his help. You won't forget Richard striding toward his plane with Jane following in her motorized wheelchair as she unleashes the icy perceptions that remind us that her mind remains laser sharp within the body that has failed her. Her essence is unchanged.
The fact that Mr. Branagh and Ms. Bonham Carter are an offscreen couple undoubtedly accounts for the extraordinary degree of comfort they have together in this movie. Their ease with each other allows the audience to relax in the presence of illness. They enlist us in their collusion rather than in their problems.
The movie is directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Richard Hawkins with great delicacy. They ask no pity for Jane. Instead, they do something quite wonderful. They make us understand that if illness hadn't slowed her down, she might never have appreciated the eccentric misfit who loves her. In a time when the world is moving too fast to notice such things, this team has crafted a graceful fairy tale about kindness. In 1999 that is a fine reward.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 491
Studio : Distant Horizon
Rating : R
Running time : 1h40m
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