There’s graffiti on the ceiling of the Davis household which lists things that the members of the Davis household does. The list, as it seems like, is the only way the LA-based Davis brothers can communicate. The older brother, Daniel (Marcus Scribner), notices a new addition to the list – “we don’t forget birthdays”. He sees this after losing his temper towards his younger neuro atypical brother Eli (Lonnie Chavis). To compensate for, duh, forgetting Eli’s birthday, Daniel does things like giving Eli his favourite pair of shoes. These are just a few of the things that Daniel does to bring a sense of normalcy to their home.
However, doing so is becoming more difficult as Daniel juggles college admissions and working as a dishwasher. Both are also behind on rent because of their father’s (Method Mad) disappearance. This is the premise for Simon Steuri’s How I Learned To Fly, a film that, at first, teeters towards poverty exploitation. As the film progresses, it thankfully pulls back towards a healthy mix of artsy magic realism and straight up American neo-realism. Some of the shots here do the job, like several ones where Daniel and Eli sleep in the car that their father leaves them.
Even in some serviceable cinematography in How I Learned To Fly, one can feel textures that remind us of its’ protagonists situation, For example, we can feel the dust caking on that car’s windshield. That’s just one of the few details in this film that, for the most part, is a balancing act. There’s also another way that this film tries to pull from total exploitation. And that’s through its supporting characters, like Louis (Cedric the Entertainer), who does what he can for the brothers. Another supporting character here is Yaya (Michele Selene Ang), a young Asian woman who opens up her parents’ laundromat to the brothers.
Any version of Yaya’s fast talking character may ruin this movie, but again, it’s all about pulling back. There are other artistic choices in How I Learned To Fly, like that scene where Daniel loses and regains his job. When his male boss fires him, the blocking and the sound design is far away. Meanwhile, when the female boss checks up on him, the camera is closer. The film has fangs but it also gives the brothers as many deus-ex-machinae as it can. Any other loss may make make this film overwhelmingly sadistic. In times when the economy is bad it’s good to watch something with hope.
Watch How I Learned To Fly in select theatres and, soon, in Film Movement Plus.