The Theory of Flight (1998) Poster

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A point of view new to my eyes.
Amidala-924 July 1999
Yes, I know everyone is sick of the typical sick-dying-person-of-the-week drama, but somehow this movie was drastically different from other movies based on physically challenged people. The driving force in the movie is no doubt Jane, a young woman who faces the fact that she shall die soon. (Bonham Carter) I am a veteran of pictures which feature a dying character with a physical disability. But those films somehow never got the character to seem like a person. After a while, Jane isn't a "sick cripple", she is a human, just a human in a wheelchair. That is all the viewer will see from Bonham Carter's portrayal. Another beautiful quality of the film is Jane refuses to be mushy and over-emotional. It is what she refuses to show that really hits home. Branagh's character Richard should not be overlooked. It's his story more or less. Jane brought Richard's redemption. He is the cripple of the story, he is the one who is dying. "Taking flight has more than one meaning"..Jane utters to Richard. "The Theory of Flight" is an original movie which I recommend to anyone looking for a fresh look on a dying person, whether you see the dying person as Jane or Richard.
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Just watch this one, I'm saying nothing....
Keith G4 October 2004
Not wishing to give *anything* away here, I would just say this technically excellent, flawlessly acted and uplifting little flic will reward the viewer with an excellent hour and a half's entertainment: It will amuse, surprise, possibly embarrass occasionally and almost certainly tug at the heartstrings from time to time, as it approaches the inevitable, but not obvious, ending without becoming clichéd or predictable in any way. Most definitely recommended.

A previous User's Comment gives 8 out of 10 for the film and 10 out of 10 for both Branagh and Bonham-Carter's outstanding performances - I agree entirely....
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Worth watching
arthurj231 August 2005
This film does a superb job of depicting the plight of an ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)sufferer. The subject is done with compassion as well as humor. Helena Bonham Carter is so convincing as a person with ALS that I found it hard to believe that she was only acting. Kenneth Branagh, a superb actor, lives up to expectations as the quirky artist who misbehaves and is forced to provide companionship to Helena's character as part of his "community service", an alternative to prison time. Watching the development of the relationship between these two is a treat from beginning to end. Tha fact that it is a fairy tale does not detract from the fabulous performances. One comes to care deeply for the two of them.
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Pretty decent stuff, actually
Stephen-123 October 1999
Despite its low-key release in this country, and its apparent disregard in other countries (the 'R' rating in the States can't have helped - honestly, just because HBC uses the C-word!), this is actually a fine piece of work. The sentimentality does occasionally threaten to choke it, but it's overcome by the playing of the two leads.

It's easy to win plaudits just because you're playing a physical or mental cripple (Daniel Day-Lewis, Geoffrey Rush, Dustin Hoffman, etc.), and Helena Bonham-Carter may not quite capture the physical degradation of MND, but her vocal stretching and ruthless emotional drive compensate entirely. In fact, almost all her performance is conducted through her eyes (and what eyes!). This is an intelligent turn from an actress who is rapidly undoing her English Rose reputation, and emerging as a figure of some stature. Awards must surely follow, though not, alas, for this fine performance.

Branagh, one feels, has never quite given his best on film (except possibly 'Hamlet', and there his playing was diluted by the large cast). Here, though, he tops his other appearances, playing to the hilt a self-loathing, unstable, ultimately lovable guy with a subtlety he hasn't always displayed, and exhibiting both intelligence and depth. In short, we believe him, just as much as we could NOT believe him as Frankenstein, as the priest in 'The Proposition', as the lawyer in 'The Gingerbread Man', even as Andrew in 'Peter's Friends'. This is surely his finest performance yet - so why could he not produce the goods much earlier?

As a film, it looks more like a television offering, and without its stars it probably wouldn't amount to very much. But it's been a pleasure to see this pair perform their socks off like this, and I eagerly await more from them (though not 'Love's Labour's Lost'...). 8 out of 10, but Branagh and HBC get 10 out of 10.
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Refreshing alternative to Hollywood formula movies
7katz17 October 1999
Loved this film. Real people, great acting, humour, unpredictable. The characters were believable and you really connected with them. If you're looking for a film about slightly offbeat characters outside the mainstream of society and how they help each other, this would be a good choice.
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Worth seeing for Bonham Carter's performance.
helen-152 January 1999
Although this movie has some weaknesses, it is worth seeing. I chose it because of the cast, and applaud Bonham Carter and Branagh for choosing roles different from those they have taken in the past. Both portray very troubled people, complete with warts, but make them likeable because of their humanity. The story is touching, but it is the performances that soar. Bonham Carter's "Jane" is a remarkable achievement, whose quest for romance opened my eyes to aspects of being disabled that I had not thought of before, but was interesting as well for other reasons. I felt the movie ended too abruptly, but better that than a drawn out emotionally manipulative ending (see "Stepmom.") The very real English setting added to my enjoyment - it was England in the 90's, both urban and rural, without being depressing.
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How nice, but couldn't it be better?
helverdi2 December 1999
Sometimes, when you grow weary of all the glamorous! American style movies, you look forward to seeing one from Europe that does not deal much with the art's technological aspects but the story and the feelings alone. I have thought that "The Theory of Flight" was a film of emotions and atmosphere. Honestly, I think it was planned to be that way. Unfortunately, the result was not satisfactory. K.B. and H.B.C. are great, I can't ignore their invaluable contributions to the movie. But I feel something was lacking. The characters were not deeply analysed maybe, or the situation of being "cripped" was mentioned better in other films (remember "My Left Foot"). In the 15. minute of the movie, we have learned that Jane was desiring to lose her virginity like normal people. And the story finished! Nothing else. The remaining portion just concentrated on this matter. How about Richard's own problems, Anne's point of view on having a daughter like Jane? In fact, we don't understand Jane's feelings, too. We just make guesses depending on our knowledge of other movie characters. I finally must say that seeing K.B. and H.B.C. together in a movie was nice. They play their roles very well. But as a whole, "The Theory of Flight" is a shallow movie. It should have been better with these players and this interesting story.
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Intelligent melodrama
MarioB21 January 2000
At the start, this one is from England, so, of course, I had 98 % chances that it will be intelligent and very good cinema. I never heard of this film before. From the minute I saw Helena Bonham-Carter, I said to myself : Oh! Here's comes the feminine version of My Left Foot. I was right, but I was also wrong. Wrong because the two movies are very differents. My Left Foot was a John Ford alike movie and this one is a Chaplin alike movie (not because this is funny, but Chaplin at that great sense of melodrama that brings tears to your eyes.) I was right because in 1990 handsome Daniel Day-Lewis turn a little bit ugly by playing an crippled person and he did it with a great sense of reality. Here, very beautiful Bonham-Carter did exactly the same thing, but with very feminine emotions. The story is well written and it's very intelligent. For me, miss Bonham-Carter gives one of the greatest woman's part of the 1990's, with Emily Lloyd in Breaking The Waves. Gee! And look at her eyes! She had the most beautiful eyes of cinema since Jobyna Ralston, Louise Brooks, Michele Morgan and Ava Gardner! She's also a true talent, as seen on many other movies. See this one, you won't regret it! And a very fine job by Branagh too!
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joeestlinbm8 February 2005
Shamefully, before I saw this film, I was unfamiliar with Helena Bonham Carter.

I had to do some research, in order to assure myself she wasn't actually afflicted, as was her character, with (well?), what she was afflicted with. I was in absolute awe of this beautiful lady. She pulled it of flawlessly.

Who would have thought that sexually explicit circumstances involving the final wants, and needs, of a unique young lady, could be interpreted as tender, and romantic? Well, they can be, when the right performers present them in the proper manner, as they did in this wonderful movie. I forgot to mention how dynamically beautiful Miss Carter looked in this movie. I have often said she was the most beautiful creature to have ever graced the face of our earth, but she seemed to have out done herself in this particular movie.

I hope any of you who watch this movie enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you for letting me express my opinion.
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Did we see the same movie?
anniepack6 August 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler!! I love Branagh, love Helena Bonham-Carter, loved them together in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" - but THIS -

I can understand an actor's desire to stretch, to avoid the romantic stereotype. Well, they did, but really - the script droned on, Bonham-Carter's clothes were tres chic, and the occasional speeded-up "madcap" sequence could have been an outtake from a Beatles' movie, or the old Rowan and Martin Laugh-In.

I never got the point - other commenters say the Branagh character was a dreamer. I never felt that. He was a loser, and not very bright, and certainly not endearing. The business with the bank robber disguise was merely painful to watch. Certainly not amusing.

Bonham-Carter's realistic (one supposes) attempts as realistic speech were harder to understand than the first 15 minutes of Lancashire accent in "Full Monty."

The poetic ending, with him high on a hill with her buried under the monstrosity of his airplane was too orchestrated. Was there a choir of angels, or merely a soundtrack?

Go back to the classics or something with a spine and an arc to it. Donate this to PBS.
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Funny, Intelligent & Very Well Done
funky_cherry868 September 2010
Kenneth Branagh is one of my favourite actors having seen some of his work in Dead Again & Mary Shelley's Frankenstein his performance was both clever and incredible. Helena Bonham Carter's portrayal of Jane a young woman dying from motor neurone disease was touching and heartfelt, you see the character go through the difficulty of the illness and sympathize with the situation.

When I saw this film I began to enjoy it after the first few minutes it was funny, heartbreaking and a little romantic. One of my favourite scenes was when Jane asked for help to lose her virginity, the expression on Richard's face was hilarious and yet stunned.

The Theory Of Flight is a charming story filled with enough comedy, drama and the right amount of romance to keep viewers entertained.
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An interesting look inside disabilities.
deverman18 September 1999
I had my doubts about another love story wherein disabled individuals find meaning and redemption through honest communication. And it's still not at the top of my list. But the performances from Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh and exemplary, almost stunning, and rescue this from being just another tear-jerker. Carter's depiction of an ALS victim is strong, perhaps even overdone at times (sometimes her dialog dissolves into undistinguishable mutterings). But the overall effect is commendable and rewarding. Branagh may be the perfect compliment to her performance.
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Goldmine2 September 1999
I suppose this is not the best film ever made but I voted it at 10 stars all the same. Mainly because of my feelings at the end. I and all the people around me were simply touched. This is something you don't often feel . We are all getting a bit cynical and fed up with over sentimentality, lazy manipulation or preaching in modern films. The story of the film centres around Jane a young woman in the last stages of MND and the friendship that grows between her and Richard, a man on the verge of a breakdown. This could have so easily been a dull and worthy piece but it is so humorous, humane and lacking in sentimentality that it wins you over completely and against the odds is a feel good movie.

The acting from Branagh and Bonham-Carter is superb especially the latter who is always believable and strong in her role. The chemistry between the two also lifts the movie.

The title comes from Richards masterpiece, a plane made of junk and his old paintings. Flying here is a symbol for both Richards and Janes living life to the full so that one can carry on and the other can face the end.

A beautiful and funny movie that I would recommend to anyone. don't let the subject matter put you off.
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A commotion of love and humanity
Hamlet-303 April 2001
I saw this film without to know what about were... I'm a fan of Branagh, even more his Shakespeare' films, and, in the beginning, I saw it only for this... and I finished with tears in my eyes, because the great, great serenity, values, affect and brave philosophy about Life of Helena's girl. Recommended to people who are bored with TV programming (in Spain, at least).
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Never Gets Off the Ground
tedg10 August 2000
This film starts with advantages few have:

Branagh plays Hamlet here, a role and achievement at world class level. Bonham-Carter plays a role with her eyes, of which she is among the very best, perhaps the best alive. Her crowning achievement is her Ophelia at the play-within-the play after being confronted by another Hamlet (Gibson). Her eyes!

It also has a couple very rich devices. The notion of a machine that speaks for B-C and cannot be interrupted but which is separable from her. This sets all sorts of possibilities for narrative enfolding. And the notion of B's canvases forming a flyable collage (another machine!) is ripe with manifold potentials for self-referential depth.

Such promise. So why is this such a failure?

Because both the writer and the director were without a focus, and probably without the talent to pull off realizing that focus. How many such disappointments do we have to see before the nature of failing loses novelty? More and more, it seems to me that no level of talent in the acting pool can do more than express a vision. If the vision is lacking, the performance must also.
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Very pleasant!
Adam Camp16 December 1999
This was one of those times when I had nothing to do with 27 premium movie channels available to me. The Theory of Flight grabbed me and held my interest. I found it both touching and amusing, a nice combination of feelings. I recommend it!
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needs more and bigger laughs
SnoopyStyle12 August 2015
Richard (Kenneth Branagh) is a dreamer who tries an unpowered flight off of a London building. He survives and is sentenced to community service. His girlfriend Julie is exasperated. He continues to build a home-made plane in a barn. He is given Jane Hatchard (Helena Bonham Carter) to care for. The wheelchair-bound sex-obsessed Jane suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease. Her rebellious nature hides the fact that she's a virgin. Richard helps to find a gigolo for her.

This is set up for a pretty simple feel-good movie. It just needs more and bigger laughs. It relies mostly on Jane's virginity for the jokes. Also Jane's speech impediment prevents the jokes from getting the right timing. I also can't see finding a gigolo to be that difficult unless Richard is more awkward. If Richard is wackier, this movie could be more fun.
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What's hard with granting a last wish?
Michael O'Keefe2 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A bit quirky and bordering bad taste; but intelligent enough to be worthy of watching. A wheelchair-bound young woman Jane Hatchard(Helena Bonham Carter)is teamed with a reluctant caregiver, Richard(Kenneth Branagh). Richard is an artist that daydreams of human flight. He builds an airplane in his garage and intends to fly it. He wants to resurrect his own troubled life by taking care of the independent, dying Jane, who suffers from an neurological disease that has all but left her speechless and very little motor skills. Wheelchair-bound and full of spirit, her last dying wish is to loose her virginity. She offers herself to Richard, who won't help her directly; but is willing to rob a bank in order to pay a gigolo to do the deed. I found this flick ambitious and humorous. Even in this role, Carter has a certain charisma and likability.
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Another Curate's Egg (slight spoilers)
Chris Bright17 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
That is, good in parts.

The good: enjoyably twisted and unsentimental approach to disability, good acting (probably Branagh's best work in a questionable film career), some interesting images (Branagh in flying goggles!) and a cinematic sense unusual in Brit cinema. Director Paul Greengrass has done excellent hard-edged work elsewhere, notably "Bloody Sunday", and brings some of that sensibility to this.

The bad: occasional lapses into sentimentality or silliness (note to all British directors - DO NOT put 'wacky' speeded up sequences set to ska music into your films unless you want them to resemble the work of Mel Smith). A tricksy ending which didn't quite work, although kudos for avoiding a "Terms of Endearment"-style deathbed scene.

The questionable: the whole idea of casting able-bodied actors in disabled parts is a bit of a hot potato these days, in the same way as white actors blacking up. First seeing Helena Bonham Carter in the chair was a bit of a "black and white minstrels" moment, although I think she overcame it with a fine, tough performance.

We never believe Branagh's plane really flies, although I guess as it's mainly intended symbolically that doesn't matter too much.

All in all, much better than one would have expected, even if it didn't quite hang together as a movie. I caught the beginning by chance and stayed up to watch till the end so I guess that's a recommendation. 7/10.
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I don't get this film
StvSpiel6 July 1999
I just finished watching The Theory Of Flight. Its interesting plot and two stars drew me too it. Ask yourself, what is this movie really about. Everytime you think you have it figured out, something happens to contradict the message you thought it was sending. This movie is only worth watching for the chemistry between the two leads. The movie sparkled when they were on screen. I felt sympathy for both of them and believed in both of them. Other then that, this movie goes to the silly side way too often, and loses its beat. It should have stayed with a serious tone. *** 1/2 stars
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Positive but flawed
stevesw929 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Loser Richard is sentenced to community service and becomes a visitor for Jane, a young woman who in the last stages of Motor Neurone Disease. Potential spoiler: Richard and Jane develop a friendship that is tested when HBC asks that KB assist her in her plan to lose her virginity. I was pleased that this movie attempted (in the main) to deal seriously with the issue of disability and sexuality. I think the overall impression was that we should not think of those who use wheelchairs as mentally challenged or not sensual.

It bugged me that an intelligent and web-literate woman like Jane had not researched her enterprise better or even acted on it independently. This damaged the positive images by making her more helpless.

Also, the cynical feel-good ending left me cold. I was annoyed that Richard's life became the primary cause for concern - but maybe that was the key flaw in the whole movie. I wasn't really concerned about his 'redemption'. The character of Jane (and HBC's performance) were the highlights.

Happy to discuss.
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Troubled man finds redemption through friendship with disabled woman
Parksy14 September 1998
A very well-written engaging story. Don't be surprised if Helena Bonham-Carter receives another Oscar nomination for her work in this film.
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award brown-nosing tearjerker...or is it?
Pike Bishop29 September 2006
i just happened to stumble on this film channel surfing. my first reaction was, 'oh god not again!'. it's so hip to play a retard these days it has become pretentious and frankly despicable. for some reason, though, i stayed and watched it 'til the end. maybe it was my faith in the actors, hoping they'd give me something to cheer about.

and surely, ken and helena can act. also, the movie progresses into something better towards the end and actually does make a point.

helena bonham carter also surprised me with her character. jane has a mean side that she uses to keep distance and repel pity. then again she has a soft side that's just looking for love. the only thing that surprised me even more was branagh's character...this was a triumph of acting, the movie itself is nothing unique.

see if you are an acting student...if you're looking for pure entertainment you can skip this one. it's sean penn serious! oh my, that was a bit harsh it does feature a couple jokes...not for escapists though.
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Ew icky.
torbi-210 August 2000
I thought I should drop my 2 cents in considering all the other reviews were lauding the exemplary talents of Branagh and Bonham-Carter. No doubt these two are fabulously wonderful actors, and I'd rather watch them in schlock than Jennifer Love-Hewitt in anything, but am I the only one just a little skeeved out by this story? I guess this is a true story, though I can't seem to find any evidence to the truth, except for that last tribute page at the end of the film. I guess this would have to be true, because you would have to be pretty twisted to make this stuff up. Robbing a bank to pay for a prostitute so that your friend could lose her virginity? Um, gross.
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The aviator
jotix1005 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Imagine the plight of Richard, a painter, whose real passion is flying. When we first meet him, he is seen atop a building in London wearing his home made wings. He has ripped his canvases and other works, at the height of his despair, and fashions a flying device for his jump. When he falls into the protective police contraption, he doesn't suffer a scratch, but it lands him in front of a judge who orders him to do community service. Richard, whose relationship with Anne apparently ended badly, decides to relocate to a rural area where he finds a place in the country with a large barn he plans to use to construct his own plane.

Richard ends up trying to help Jane Harchard reluctantly. She is a young woman suffering from A.L.S., or Lou Gehrig's disease and is confined to a motorized wheel chair. Jane is extremely intelligent, but has a dark side and a salty vocabulary. She uses a hand held device to speak sometimes, as her speech is not clear. What Jane loves to do is to lose her virginity, at any cost. Jane and Richard clash as they meet, but a mutual tolerance soon makes them comfortable with one another.

Jane, who watches porn on her computer, has a notion for finding someone like Richard Gere in "American Gigolo", who will, for a fee, have sex with her. When Richard takes her to London, they find the right man for the job. His fee is exorbitant, but they agree. Since they have no money, Richard decides to rob a big bank. Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan when Jane realizes that she can't go through with what she had wanted. At the end, Richard takes Jane for a ride in his crudely built plane for the thrill of her life, something that brings them closer, as they find an affinity with one another.

Peter Greengrass directed this quirky film which presents an unusual situation. Jane is clearly not the romantic heroine in mainstream films, and yet, she has such a sweet aura about her that is hard not to feel for her and what she is trying to accomplish. Mr. Greengrass shows an affinity Richar Hawkins' material he wrote for the film. The movie doesn't try to be cute or give a rosy picture of a young woman afflicted with an incurable disease.

Helena Bonham Carter is the main reason for watching the film. She makes a wonderful Jane. On the other hand, Kenneth Branagh doesn't seem too well suited for this type of comedy. Somehow, he has problems of his own in the way he interprets Richard. Gemma Jones has some good moments as Anne, Richard's former love.

"The Theory of Flight" shows a good director. No doubt Peter Greengrass will go to bigger and better things.
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