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Fly Away Home

Posted by martinteller on August 3, 2014

13-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) loses her mother in a car accident.  Her estranged father Tom Alden (Jeff Daniels) comes to take her from New Zealand to his home in Ontario.  Amy is depressed and relations are strained as her father ineffectually tries to connect with her.  Then the land adjoining Tom’s home is deforested, and Amy discovers an orphaned nest of goose eggs.  She raises the chicks herself, causing them to imprint on her.  However, they need parental guidance for the migration south for the winter.  Tom — a sculptor and an amateur aviator — devises a plan: get the geese to follow an ultralight aircraft.  But they won’t follow Tom… it’ll have to be Amy leading the way.

This film is loosely based on the life of Bill Lishman, who trained geese to follow new migration patterns in an aircraft, and founded Operation Migration.  Thank you, Wikipedia.  And unless the Wikipedia article is missing a lot of information, there doesn’t appear to be a little girl involved in the actual events.  That’s okay… nothing wrong with dramatic license, especially when the film doesn’t really position itself as a true story.  The family dynamics are the gas that keeps this film moving.  The drama of the geese is rather low stakes, and the obstacles in their way (a wildlife ranger threatening to clip their wings, a corporate fatcat who wants to bulldoze their destination) never pose serious threats.  We know from the tone of the movie that the birds will get there.  It is watching the bond between father and daughter develop that gives the film a little more substance.  Daniels and Paquin are both quite natural in their roles, delivering performances that feel genuine and not at all trumped up for the screen (I also really enjoyed Terry Kinney as Tom’s brother David).

It is directed by Carroll Ballard, whose prior credentials with children and animals were established with The Black Stallion.  Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel worked on that film as well.  While I don’t think this quite matches the majesty of Stallion, there are some absolutely beautiful shots.  The overall vibe of the film is “pleasant”, and the visuals support that.  The imagery of the geese in flight with manned machines is gently intoxicating, and as babies they are shot with a magic hour warmth that complements their adorableness.  The photography at times even brings to mind Terrence Malick.  A couple of process shots (to give the illusion that the actors are really flying the planes) are clunky, but overall it’s a lovely film.  Unfortunately, the Mark Isham score is too sugary, and there’s an overbearing Mary Chapin Carpenter song that tramples all over the film’s climax.

I have no superlatives for this picture, but it is indeed pleasant and sometimes touching.  It’s a lightweight, feelgood family film.  Sometimes, when you’re feeling blue, that’s just what you need.  Rating: Good (74)


2 Responses to “Fly Away Home”

  1. I have fond memories of watching the film on VHS one cold Sunday morning. It warmed me up nicely.

    A bit of trivia you may like, when Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels were on the set for The Squid and the Whale years later it took them a bit to get used to their intimate scenes because of this film. Recounting the experience later, they were able to get over their awkwardness by refusing to think of geese.

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