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, 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).
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.
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. The grassroots outreach campaign was in association with Autism Speaks, which received 10% of all proceeds.
The film's screenplay won the award for the Best International Screenplay from the 2010 Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales.
Jeanne (Beth Broderick) is awakened by crying from 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.” Jeanne calms her by singing “Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home.”
The next morning, Jeanne struggles to get Mandy to school. Jeanne takes a call from her freelance business partner, Sue (Denise Dowse). They’re under pressure to complete a project for a major client.
Jeanne is interrupted by the school reporting Mandy with another fit. Principal Liz Howell (Reno) suggests Mandy should go to a different school.
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, and Jeanne turns around and sees Mandy with her laptop deleting her work. The next day, Peter 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 Mandy out for ice cream to console her after school. Mandy disturbs the ice cream parlor.
A day later, Jeanne walks her dog and meets a charming neighbor, Tom (Greg Germann). The school calls to report Mandy having another fit, and Jeanne rushes away from Tom. Mandy is suspended for a week. While attending to Mandy’s round-the-clock needs, Jeanne's work suffers. Sue ends the partnership.
The next day, Jeanne and Mandy see Tom at the dog park. Tom is charmed by Mandy’s eccentricity, and they go out for pizza. Later, Tom and Jeanne start to grow closer, but Jeanne pulls away from him.
Mandy is kicked out of school, leaving Jeanne few options. Mandy cheers her mother by singing "fly away home".
Jeanne and Peter discuss putting Mandy into a residential facility. Anguished at losing contact with Mandy, Jeanne sees an airplane flying freely and thinks of Mandy becoming independent.Beth Broderick as Jeanne Cafferty
Ashley Rickards as Mandy
Greg Germann as Tom
JR Bourne as Peter
Reno as Liz Howell
Elaine Hall as Ms. Quinlan
Zachariah Palmer as Dylan
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Fly Away holds a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.
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." The New York Times wrote: "A defiantly unsentimental look at the complex codependency between a harried single mother and her severely autistic daughter."
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."
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."
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."