Flying Lessons -- Film Review

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SANTA BARBARA -- A downer of a drama about a young woman's search for redemption, "Flying Lessons" never breaks free of its stagy confines despite the considerable efforts of its seasoned cast.

An odd choice to kick off the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 25th anniversary celebrations, this earnest directorial debut by actor Derek Magyar might not have an easy time landing in theaters.

Maggie Grace, best known to audiences as Liam Neeson's kidnapped daughter in "Taken," makes a convincing Sophie, a 25-year-old woman with self-destructive tendencies who returns from Los Angeles to live with her estranged mother, Carolyn (Christine Lahti) in her expansive Santa Ynez home.

Initially, her stay proves anything but restorative, with too many unresolved issues and a closet full of skeletons standing in between her and her alcoholic mom.

But through her job caring for an elderly Alzheimer's patient (the ever dependable Hal Holbrook transforming a potentially trite character), she manages to reconnect with those she once alienated.

Working off of a script by "Glee" associate producer Thomas J. Khuel, director Magyar certainly looks out for his cast, allowing each of them their turn in the spotlight delivering an extended monologue or particularly poignant exchange.

Unfortunately that generosity is at the expense of a plodding pace and a pervasive theatricality that confines the production in a stifling malaise.

At least that Santa Ynez backdrop provides a breath of fresh air, with Joshua Hess' camera tenderly surveying that bright, breezy "Sideways" terrain.

Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Production companies: Skinny Lee Productions
Cast: Maggie Grace, Christine Lahti, Hal Holbrook, Cary Elwes
Director: Derek Magyar
Screenwriter: Thomas J. Khuel
Executive producers: Mark Johnson, Chris Carter, JPL, Chip Fullerton, Bonnie Hawthorne
Producer: Jenny Hinkey
Director of photography: Joshua Hess
Production designer: Khari Walker
Music: Jesse Glick
Costume designers: Peter Max-Muller, Maya Krispin
Editor: Richard A. Harris
No MPAA rating, 114 minutes
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