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"THE THEORY OF FLIGHT"
(1998) (Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Mild None Moderate None Mild
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild None None None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Heavy Moderate Minor Mild Minor


QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Comedy: A woman suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease hopes that a troubled man assigned to spend community service time with her will help her lose her virginity.
PLOT:
Richard (KENNETH BRANAGH) is a troubled and eccentric man whose dreams of flying have gotten him arrested. Instead of serving jail time, however, he's sentenced to 120 hours of community service. During this time he's assigned to accompany Jane (HELENA BONHAM CARTER), a 25-year-old woman suffering from a progressive Motor Neuron disease better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

While her body may be failing her -- often prompting the use of computer generated speech -- Jane's mind is still quite sharp and she has a feisty spirit about her, something that appeals to Richard despite his initial uncomfortableness around her.

Soon they're spending a great deal of time together and as their friendship grows, Jane approaches Richard with a problem with which she hopes he can help. While she initially doesn't want him to actually "do the deed" as she states, she wants him to help her lose her virginity before she dies from her disease.

Reluctant at first to even consider the proposition, Richard eventually sets out to help his new friend do just that. While his former girlfriend, Julie (HOLLY AIRD), is concerned about Richard and doesn't understand what he's going through, Richard and Jane soon learn that they have what it takes to make the other happy and fulfilled.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
If they're fans of Branagh or Carter, they might. Otherwise, it's not very likely.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For sexuality and language.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • KENNETH BRANAGH plays a troubled and slightly eccentric man with a wish to fly. Arrested for one of his attempts, he's assigned to, and eventually befriends Jane and sets out to help her fulfill her quest no matter what the cost. Along the way he smokes and cusses quite a bit.
  • HELENA BONHAM CARTER plays a young woman suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease that's crippled her body but not her mind or spirit. Realizing she doesn't have long to live, she hopes Richard will help her lose her virginity. She also cusses quite a bit and occasionally shoplifts items.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    For those facing real life physical or mental challenges, such conditions and the public's reaction to them can certainly present more than a fair share of challenges and rewards. For performers who decide to play characters facing any range of disabilities, however, the result is almost always rewarding and usually comes in the form of various award nominations.

    From Oscar winners such as Tom Hanks ("Forrest Gump"), Dustin Hoffman ("Rain Man"), Al Pacino ("Scent of a Woman") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot"), to nominees like Tom Cruise ("Born on the Fourth of July"), Robert De Niro ("Awakenings"), Robin Williams ("The Fisher King") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape"), playing a character with a disability is almost a certain way to get a chance at nabbing one of those golden statuettes.

    However, it's not often that you see women in such roles, which brings us to Helena Bonham Carter ("A Room With a View," "Hamlet"). While her performance in "The Theory of Flight" will likely draw her praise and her second Oscar nomination in a row (after last year's "The Wings of the Dove"), it's just too bad that not as much attention was paid to the rest of the film as her performance.

    As a result, the film often feels like nothing more than a promotional vehicle pushing her for the Oscars, Globes, and all of the rest. All of which is a shame, because it does nothing but simply detract from her otherwise compelling performance as a woman suffering from what's commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

    It also doesn't help that this film -- a decidedly offbeat and unsentimental look at an unconventional romance -- tries so hard to be offbeat and cute that its inner mechanisms -- the puppeteer's strings if you will -- show too much.

    Whenever a film uses sped up footage during a musical montage (apparently to show just how much fun the two characters are having together) -- especially in a film like this -- you know you and the filmmakers are collectively in trouble. That, coupled with scenes of Kenneth Branagh ("Celebrity," "Dead Again,") mugging and practicing his "hold up" face and behavior in front of a mirror only go to show that the film has simply run out of steam by that point.

    Possibly somewhat based on a true story -- our uncertainty is due to an end obit credit that implies real events, but nothing is mentioned in the press materials either way -- the film isn't horrible by any means and it does have the potential to be quite interesting, considering the young woman's goal and unique challenge.

    Unfortunately, first-time feature director Paul Greengrass' (a former TV documentarian) steerage and Richard Hawkins' screenplay offer relatively few laughs, no emotional surges, and end up occasionally teetering between lame comedy and overall bad taste once the picture's big "surprise" -- namely Jane's desire to lose her virginity before her death -- is let out of the bag.

    Despite the eventual and obligatory symbolism of taking flight both emotionally and physically, Greengrass and Hawkins never quite figure out what type of story they want to tell -- uplifting or offbeat -- resulting in the audience never quite connecting with the plot or the characters.

    Even so, Carter is quite good and believable in her role, but her accuracy in mimicking the slurred speech of a person affected by Motor Neuron disease often leaves the viewer straining to understand exactly what she's saying.

    Branagh, who seems to have taken a liking to lightweight comedies these days, is okay in his role as the somewhat eccentric fly-boy, but when his character eventually tells Jane that he can't personally fulfill her need by stating "I'm a cripple," everyone in the theater will be rolling their eyes. Nonetheless, the eventually realized chemistry between the two seems real enough, but of course it's based on the real-life thing (the two are an off-screen couple).

    Perhaps the story seemed like it would work well on paper, but as a film it just doesn't quite have what it takes to successfully lift off. Despite Carter's performance that will most likely earn her some nominations (partially due to the standard lack of well-written female roles), the film never gets out of second gear as it sputters and coughs trying to figure out what it wants to be. We give the unnecessarily grounded "The Theory of Flight" a 5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with more than 30 "f" words, along with other words and phrases. Much of the film deals with Jane wanting to lose her virginity before she dies and she asks for Richard's help in finding someone who will do that for her.

    While it's implied that she finally gets her wish, we also see the beginnings of a failed encounter with a gigolo, as well as a brief views of a porno video complete with some movement and lots of sounds.

    Beyond that and the thematic elements of Jane's condition, she shoplifts a few times, Richard nearly robs a bank to pay for her gigolo, and he also smokes throughout much of the film. While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, you should take a closer look through what's been listed should you be concerned with its appropriateness for them or yourself.



    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • It appears that Richard and Jane had wine with a meal.
  • People have drinks in a bar.
  • People have drinks at a hotel bar.
  • Richard opens a bottle of champagne.
  • A gigolo brings over a bottle of champagne (or wine).
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • None.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Jane occasionally has some toward people who treat her like a mental invalid.
  • Some may see Jane wanting to lose her virginity, as well as Richard's attempts to find someone for her, as having some of both (including Richard nearly robbing a bank to get money to pay a gigolo).
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • None.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Rifle: Positioned on Richard's plane, and later used in a botched bank robbery attempt and briefly aimed at a gigolo.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "For f*ck's sake," "Laid" and "Shagged" (sexual), "D*ckhead" and "Bollocks."
  • Richard attempts to hang glide from the top of a building in a homemade hang glider.
  • We see Jane shoplifting twice (and she's caught in the latter) with her excuse being "would they really throw a person like me in jail."
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • None.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • Due to Jane's slurred speech (and use of a computer generated voice) -- both of which are occasionally hard to understand, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 37 "f" words (1 used sexually with another sounding like it used "mother"), 5 "s" words, 2 slang terms using male genitals ("d*ck"), 3 craps, 1 hell, and 1 use of "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • As the camera slowly pans across Jane's room, we hear many pleasured, sexual sounds and then see that she's watching a jerky video of a couple having sex (a woman on top of a man with movement, but no explicit nudity).
  • A classic painting shows male full frontal nudity.
  • Richard briefly comments about posing as an artist as a teenager to "get laid."
  • Jane comments that she now regrets turning down her boyfriend's offer (when she was seventeen) to have sex. She then asks Richard to help her lose her virginity (but not to "do the deed" himself). When he balks out the idea, she says that she can't do it on her own. He then states that he can (referring to masturbation) and she replies that she can't even do that anymore.
  • Jane logs onto the Internet and types in that she's a "crippled" woman looking for sex.
  • Richard finally agrees to help Jane in her quest, so they head to the city. At a center for the disabled Richard can't finish the sentence, "She wants to get..." and so Jane adds in the word "f*cked."
  • Richard approaches a man that he and Jane assume is a gigolo. The man misunderstands what Richard's asking for and says, "I don't know who you are, but I don't do gay." Richard then explains the situation and the man agrees to have sex with Jane for 2,000 pounds.
  • Hearing that, Jane says, "2,000 pounds just to get laid? -- Well, you'll have to do it." (He declines the offer).
  • Preparing for her "encounter," Jane wears a low-cut dress that shows a lot of cleavage.
  • The gigolo arrives, takes off Jane's dress (we see her in her bra) and slowly undoes his pants and then climbs toward her. He then does something to her that makes her react with sounds that first sound sexual in nature, but we then notice that she's nearly crying/screaming. Richard bursts in and the gigolo stands up completely nude, with just his hands covering his crotch. We then see just a brief glimpse of that man's bare butt as he runs out.
  • It's implied that Richard and Jane have sex.
  • SMOKING
  • Richard smokes throughout the film, while Julie smokes once as do miscellaneous characters.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • Jane's mother is occasionally upset with her daughter's behavior.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Jane's condition -- she has Lou Gehrig's disease.
  • The fact that Jane wants to lose her virginity before she dies from that disease.
  • VIOLENCE
  • We briefly see Richard knocking things over and tearing drawings and painting from the wall in an art studio.



  • Reviewed December 3, 1998 / Posted on January 22, 1999

    Other new reviews available this week include:

    [The Best of Me] [The Book of Life] [Fury] [Men, Women & Children] [St. Vincent]

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