“How I Learned To Fly” is weighed down by focusing heavily on the struggles of its lead characters for too long before giving us a silver lining, levity, or some sign things are going to get better.
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Daniel finds his life spiraling fast. His mother is gone, his father is too, and his 14-year-old little brother struggles with communication. Daniel can’t afford to pay the rent, make sure he and Eli eat, and pay the electric bill and gas. Something has to give, and for most of the movie, it is him having to give his time, energy, and what little money he has until you ask where is rock bottom for these two?
Note, they don’t live in a bubble, as there are people who are in their lives or come into their lives that try to help, but their appearances are either sporadic or held off until what feels like the end.
Other Noteworthy Information
- This will be coming out on Starz once it ends its theatrical run.
Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member.
Daniel, the eldest of the two boys, works in a restaurant cleaning dishes, and since his mom and dad are no longer around, he uses what people leave on their plates to feed him and his brother. This is on top of trying to stay on top of his studies to get into a good college.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Confessional.”
With a struggle to communicate, trauma from his dad, and being bullied by kids, Eli’s life is by no means easy. His only solace is his older brother, and even he gets frustrated with Eli to the point of cursing at him sometimes.
- The actor is also known for their role in “The Boy Next Door.”
Yaya is a first-generation American whose parents own a laundry mat and whom she had to fight against to not end up locked into just inheriting the family business.
- The actor is also known for their role in “13 Reasons Why: Season 2.”
Louis is Eli and Daniel’s next-door neighbor who tries to look out for them and gets Eli into working on cars.
- The actor is also known for their role in “She Ball.”
Cliff is Eli and Daniel’s dad, who appears to be someone who has quite a temper, though he does have his good moments.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Vampires vs. The Bronx.”
Dorothee is Eli and Daniel’s mom, who works in a school doing custodial maintenance, though she dreams of becoming a teacher.
Where your thought goes, your energy flows
Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive)
Notable Performances or Moments
The Sibling Relationship
Setting aside some of the negatives below, there is no denying a touching dynamic between Daniel and Eli. Often, stories like this seek out distractions through a generous guidance counselor, a sudden love interest, or any means to alleviate the struggle and suffering of its characters. “How I Learned To Fly” doesn’t believe in letting up like that.
Instead, it forces you to understand Eli and Daniel’s situation, especially since Daniel is maybe hovering around 18 and Eli is 14. So, the threat of separation is there; Eli is someone who struggles to communicate and reads as autistic, so him ending up with someone who could abuse him is a thought. Then, add in the abuse both experienced at the hands of their father Cliff? The trauma he added to their lives?
While Chavis has repeatedly proven his career will thrive far beyond “This Is Us,” Scribner gets to really step away from his role as Junior in the “-ish” universe and show he has the potential for staying power.
The Editing and Writing
“How I Learned To Fly” is not a movie that should be as long as it is. Whether it is the unnecessary artsy and cinematic moments of watching a dress get wet by sprinklers or moments when the camera focuses on Eli’s Gameboy, there are a lot of moments and scenes that feel meant strictly to add to the time length of this movie so it can be seen as a feature film and not a short.
I’d even add in, pacing and entertainment-wise, that this film also struggles. All you’d want to see, know, or understand is backloaded. Whether it is revealing what happened to Dorothee or Cliff, presenting a character who has some sort of energy to disrupt the downward progression of Eli and Daniel’s life, or just something that could be seen as a hook.
Don’t get me wrong, Chavis and Scribner give wonderful performances and deserve their flowers. The problem is, while great performers, neither have that Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” charisma, or the energy Teyana Taylor gave in “One Thousand and One” to drive this film through its darkest, traumatic, and aptly dry moments. They don’t yet have that lead actor oomph needed to be the driving force behind a drama like this (though I understand everyone has to start somewhere).
On The Fence
Silver Linings That Don’t Become Something More
Two characters, Louis and Yaya, bring some sort of levity, help, or distraction from what feels like the constant pounding of one bad thing happening to Daniel and Eli after another. However, neither character gets to be part of their journey enough.
In the case of Louis, he is their next-door neighbor who tries to help when he can. The problem is, Daniel isn’t the type to actively seek or ask for help, so Louis’ presence is completely dependent on him taking initiative, thus leading to him showing up from time to time but not being able to do as much for the kids as they need.
As for Yaya, she is the type you’d expect in a movie like this. Note, as stated above, romantic relationships aren’t the focus of “How I Learned To Fly.” However, with her growing close to Eli and, assumingly, Daniel off-screen, she becomes the first sign that either of these two have friends or someone who they can or will seek out.
But, even though her screen time feels longer than Louis, since it isn’t as sporadic, sadly, she doesn’t come into play until the latter half of the movie, after the point you are checking your watch because all you’ve seen is a consistent flow of suffering which may drain you in a way to help you understand what the characters are going through, but it doesn’t make for an experience that will keep you engaged (unless you catch this in theaters).
Who Is This For?
Fans of any of the leads involved will likely enjoy their performances in “How I Learned To Fly,” but for those who have an aversion to Black trauma or poverty, this isn’t for you.
Based On Work By
December 1, 2023
How To Watch
1 Hour 44 Minutes
Noted Characters and Cast
Michele Selene Ang
Cedric The Entertainer
Content Rating Explanation
- Dialog: Cursing Throughout
- Violence: There Are Scenes Where Eli Gets Bullied By Neighborhood Kids, blood, and gun violence
- Sexual Content: Yaya does make comments that make it sound she is coming onto Eli (before she learns his age)
- Miscellaneous: Smoking, drinking, and depiction of vomit
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How I Learned to Fly (2023) – Movie Review
While “How I Learned To Fly” has notable performances from Marcus Scribner and Lonnie Chavis; unfortunately, its pacing and when it chooses to introduce characters or reveal pertinent information makes it a sluggish watch.
The Sibling Relationship - 86%
The Editing and Writing - 63%
Silver Linings That Don’t Become Something More - 74%
- The Sibling Relationship
- Silver Linings That Don’t Become Something More
- The Editing and Writing