Fly Away (film)

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Fly Away
Fly Away Movie Poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Janet Grillo
Produced by Janet Grillo
Pavlina Hatoupis
Catherine Hardwicke
(Executive Producer)
Lee Adhemar G. Feldshon
(Executive Producer)
David F. Schwartz
(Executive Producer)
Written by Janet Grillo
Starring Beth Broderick
Ashley Rickards
Greg Germann
JR Bourne
Elaine Hall
Zachariah Palmer
Music by String Theory Productions
Cricket Films, Ministry of Content
Distributed by New Video Group
Release dates
  • April 26, 2011 (2011-04-26)
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Fly Away is a 2011 Independent American dramatic film written and directed by Emmy Award-winning Janet Grillo, and starring Beth Broderick, Ashley Rickards, Greg Germann, JR Bourne, Reno, Elaine Hall, and Zachariah Palmer.

Made as a SAG Ultra-Low Budget Independent Film, and shot in 14 days,[citation needed] Fly Away premiered as 1 of 8 out of 2000 submissions in Dramatic Competition at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March, 2011.

The film won Best Film and Special Jury Prize for Performance (Ashley Rickards) at the Arizona International Film Festival in April 2011, and Honorable Mention from the prestigious Voice Awards, sponsored by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA).[citation needed]

Fly Away opened in limited theatrical release in key cities in April 2011, Autism Awareness Month. It received excellent reviews in leading journals including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Observer, Huffington Post, Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Several critics called for Academy Award nominations.[citation needed]

At the end of April 2010, Fly Away became available in US and Canada via iTunes, NetFlix, Amazon and Video on Demand Time Warner/Comcast, through New Video /Flatiron Films.[citation needed] The grassroots outreach campaign was in association with Autism Speaks, which received 10% of all proceeds.[citation needed]

The film's screenplay won the award for the Best International Screenplay from the 2010 Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales.[citation needed]


It’s midnight, and Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is awakened by wails of pain, coming from another room. Slowly, she pulls herself out of bed and goes to the source; her autistic teenage daughter Mandy (Ashley Rickards).

Mandy is suffering an anxiety attack, as she has almost every night for months. Jeanne instructs her daughter to “use her strategies.” Finally, Jeanne distracts her out of this fit by singing a familiar lullaby: “Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home.”

The next morning, Jeanne struggles to dress her 15 year-old daughter, who can’t yet do so by herself, and to board her onto the awaiting school bus. Afterwards, she walks their family beagle, while receiving a cell phone call from her free-lance business partner, Sue (Denise Dowse). They’re under pressure to deliver a high-profile cost analysis report to a major client. Jeanne jumps into the task with characteristic determination. Despite Sue’s protest, Jeanne promises the client they will deliver it by Monday.

But her work is soon interrupted by a call from the school. Mandy’s had another violent fit, disrupting the class. Jeanne rushes to the school, and encounters the dedicated but gruff principal, Liz Howell (Reno), who suggests this might not be the right placement for Mandy. Since Mandy’s failed in three different schools over the past two years, Jeanne is resolute to keep her in this one.

Desperate for help, Jeanne calls Mandy’s father, Peter (JR Bourne), asking if he could take Mandy for the weekend. He makes his usual excuses, but then surprises them by showing up, and sweeping Mandy off to the park. Jeanne is enjoying a rare moment of peace when Peter calls, in great distress. Mandy’s had another fit, attacking yet another child on the playground. Jeanne rushes to the rescue, and takes control of the situation.

The next day, Jeanne takes a break to walk her dog and meets a new neighbor, Tom (Greg Germann). He’s charming, and sparks begin to fly. Jeanne remembers that she is a woman, not just a function. Then her cell phone rings and it’s the school, once again. Mandy’s had another fit and Jeanne rushes off, leaving Tom behind and bewildered.

This time, Mandy’s fit was so extreme that she is suspended for a week. Jeanne is beside herself. Over the next few days, her world becomes even more unhinged, as she struggles to complete her report, while attending to Mandy’s round-the-clock needs. It’s an impossible task, and she fails. The report is hastily done and she is fired.

The next day, Jeanne takes Mandy with her to the dog park. Tom is there as well. Surprisingly, he is charmed by Mandy’s eccentricity, and offers to take them all out for pizza. Unused to flirtatious attention from a man, Jeanne refuses. But Mandy’s enthusiasm wins out.

They have a lovely time and Tom escorts them home, where he engages in delightful play with Mandy. Later, over a cup of tea, he and Jeanne grow closer. But when he moves his hand to take hers, Jeanne freezes. Why would he want to get involved with her, and this engulfing struggle? And if she cared about him, how could she let him? Rebuffed, Tom leaves the house…and her life. Overcome by the sacrifice she has made, yet again, Jeanne sucks up her sorrow and forges on.

Mandy has another fit and is kicked out of the school. Jeanne’s only option is to enroll her child in a therapeutic residential facility. But how can she? Mandy’s body might be mature, but her mind and spirit is that of a young child. How can she abandon such a vulnerable girl to strangers? Driving Mandy back from their final confrontation with Liz Howell, Jeanne contemplates veering off the road into a tree, and ending their suffering. She stops herself, last minute. In a poignant moment of surprising attunement, Mandy consoles her mother, singing to Jeanne as she had been sung to; “Fly away home…”

In the days to come, Mandy and Jeanne become increasingly unable to cope. While walking their dog, Mandy breaks away and with unexpected speed, runs off. Jeanne cannot find her. For hours, Mandy is lost and Jeanne is desperate. Until Tom arrives, returning her. He found Mandy hiding in the dog park. Jeanne’s gratitude hints at renewed possibility between them.

At last, Jeanne realizes that the residential facility is Mandy’s last, best chance. She suggests it to Peter. They meet with a professional advisor, to discuss this difficult choice. Although she suggested it, Jeanne is anguished at the thought of losing her child. She can’t bring herself to “sending her away.” In the parking lot after the meeting, Jeanne sees a plane over-head. The sight of it flying freely causes an internal shift.

Jeanne drives Mandy miles away to visit the Boarding School. The facility is gracious, and the staff is kind. As she walks the inviting grounds with Mandy, they hold hands. And realize that both of their lives can now begin.


Critical reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Fly Away holds a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.[1]

The Los Angeles Times wrote that "The lovely, heartbreaking Fly Away benefits from superb performances and a gripping story managed with simplicity and grace by writer-producer-director Janet Grillo."[2] The New York Times wrote: "A defiantly unsentimental look at the complex codependency between a harried single mother and her severely autistic daughter."[3]

Rex Reed of The New York Observer wrote about Ashley Rickards's performance: "In a class by herself, she deserves, at the very least, an Oscar nomination. Not since Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker has any actor portrayed a handicapped child (especially one with autism) with the same depth of passion and realism."[4]

The Huffington Post commended both Beth Broderick and Ashley Rickards for their performances: "Broderick plays Jeanne with a lost look on her face. She is overwhelmed by her circumstances, but is determined to persevere...In stark counterpoint to Jeanne is Mandy, the autistic daughter who is not like most of us. Mandy is played by Ashley Rickards, a young lady who should win an Academy Award for best supporting actress. She is that convincing. Her performance is both frightening and wonderful. Director Grillo lets us take small steps into Mandy's world by juxtaposing scenes of bright color with scenes of dreary darkness...Broderick and Rickards hit all the notes perfectly. Their duet is really something to see."[5]

Conversely, Diego Costa of Slant Magazine wrote that it suffers "from a generic sterility we've come to associate with made-for-TV movies. The screaming fits get repetitive, the mother's commitment reiterated ad nauseam, the meek, nice neighbor who wants to help is turned down, and yet the sensitivity of its subject is treated from a distance", while Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News comments that "Rickards tries hard in a difficult role and Greg Germann offers nice support as an empathetic neighbor. But like her character, it's Broderick who keeps things from falling apart."[6][7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipient Result
Arizona International Film Festival Best Feature Won
Special Jury Prize Ashley Rickards Won
Voice Awards Honorable Mention Won
Swansea Bay Film Festival Best International Screenplay Won


  1. ^ "Fly Away Movie Reviews, Pictures". Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  2. ^ Goldstein, Gary (April 15, 2011). "Movie review: 'Fly Away'". 
  3. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (April 15, 2011). "A Difficult Family Relationship". 
  4. ^ Reed, Rex (April 12, 2011). "Movie Review: Fly Away Is Heartbreaking, If Hallmark-y". 
  5. ^ Smigelski, Joseph (April 12, 2011). "Fly Away: An Absorbing Film About Autism". 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Daily News (New York) |url= missing title (help). 

External links[edit]