Combustible Celluloid Review - How I Learned to Fly (2023), Simon Steuri, Simon Steuri, Marcus Scribner, Lonnie Chavis, Method Man, Cedric the Entertainer, Michele Selene Ang, Crystal Bush
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marcus Scribner, Lonnie Chavis, Method Man, Cedric the Entertainer, Michele Selene Ang, Crystal Bush
Written by: Simon Steuri
Directed by: Simon Steuri
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 12/01/2023

How I Learned to Fly (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Home Stress

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Surprisingly gentle and deeply compassionate, this drama about the struggles of Black Lives manages to depict harsh realities without being harsh itself, focusing on hope and change rather than rage.

Brothers Daniel (Marcus Scribner) and Eli (Lonnie Chavis) live a normal life with their parents in a Los Angeles suburb, until one day, their parents aren't there anymore. Eli appears to carry some kind of trauma, and barely speaks. Older brother Daniel tries to hold things together by making sure that they are showered and dressed, that Eli makes it to school everyday and that Daniel makes it to his job as a dishwasher.

Kind neighbor Louis (Cedric The Entertainer) offers help, but it's more than Daniel can bear to actually accept. It's not long before he is forced to sell furniture to pay rent, but eventually they must pack their things and live in the family car. Nevertheless, the brothers continue to think positively, as their mother taught them, and continue fighting for their future.

How I Learned to Fly begins with a striking sequence: Daniel sees something in the kitchen that shocks him, he picks up his phone, dials 9-1-… and stops. He realizes, and we do too, that it's an act that could cause him more trouble than solutions. Writer/director Simon Steuri — who, amazingly, is from Switzerland and is White — provides plenty of real-world threat, including Eli having his shoes stolen, and especially a jaw-dropping scene involving Daniel and their (clearly abusive) father (Method Man, in a blistering performance).

But it's contrasted with surprising moments of kindness, such as an interaction with a White police officer, or when Yaya (Michele Selene Ang), lets the boys shower in her laundromat. A list of "rules" written on the boys' ceiling, and subsequently on the roof of their car ("We don't lie," "We wash our clothes," "We do our homework," etc.), becomes a sweet, special, unspoken, ongoing dialogue.

There are exquisite moments of magical realism, such as the boys burning a box of "Bad Memories," or Daniel's terrifying dreams of falling slowly turning into dreams of floating, and flying. A gorgeous, soulful score full of old-timey-sounding R&B and jazz helps the delicate mood (it earns comparisons to Moonlight). How I Learned to Fly is a beautiful movie, unafraid of tragedy, but equally unafraid of hope.

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