A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
It has heavy themes, but overall this is a story of hope, kindness, and compassion -- about keeping a positive attitude when faced with adversity and working to improve your circumstances. A secondary character gives one beautiful speech about how everything in the world is loved by someone or something and another about how the world is crazy and we have no control over anything except ourselves and our hearts.
Positive Role Models
Daniel is a remarkable character: He's able to focus on the positive in a horrifying situation and is determined to make the best of things and take care of his younger brother. He works hard to make sure they both get through school, even though his temper and/or stubbornness sometimes gets the better of him. Several supporting characters show kindness and/or compassion to the main characters. That said, there's also some iffy behavior, such as stealing.
The two main characters are Black, as are most of the supporting characters, and the movie explores the challenges and issues related to being Black in the United States. Another key character, Yaya, is played by Chinese American actor Michele Selene Ang. Several characters appearing in small roles are White, and many of these are compassionate and helpful. Writer/director Simon Steuri is Swiss.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
Brief, partly seen images of a dead body. Body dragged away. Blood on floor. Gunshot heard; body falls to floor. Threatening with gun. Abusive father. Dreams of character falling from sky, screaming, thudding on ground. Teens play a game: They throw backpacks at a teen on a swing, trying to hit him and knock him off. Teen hit by backpack, bandage on forehead, some blood seen. Some brief rough handling of younger brother by older brother. Arguing. Character raging, punching things.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple has sex in a car; this is seen and heard from the outside of the vehicle -- the car rocks back and forth, and there are moaning sounds, squeaking sounds, etc. A teen tries to spy on them and interrupts them. Man shown shirtless. A teen tries to masturbate under a blanket. Strong sex-related dialogue.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sporadic language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "fag," "bitch," "goddamn," "pervert," "hella."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
Main character has a Game Boy.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teen steals a bottle of vodka and is later seen passed out on the bathroom floor, covered in vomit; another character dumps the 3/4-full bottle down the drain. Dialogue about the teen being drunk. Adult guzzles beer. Secondary characters smoke in more than one scene. Two young men sit on a curb and smoke something (pot?). Mention of crack.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that How I Learned to Fly is a deeply compassionate, hopeful drama about two young Black Los Angeles brothers who suddenly find themselves on their own. Violence includes a gunshot, a body falling to the floor and being dragged away, and some blood. An injured teen wears a bandage on his forehead, and an an abusive father touches a gun and threatens his son. Occasional language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "f-g," "bitch," "goddamn," and more A couple is heard having sex inside a car; there's moaning and squeaking, and a teen tries to spy on them. A teen tries to masturbate, and there's strong sex-related dialogue. A teen who steals a bottle of vodka wakes up covered in vomit, and other characters smoke cigarettes, an adult guzzles beer, and teens briefly smoke pot. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Gentle and deeply compassionate, this drama manages to depict harsh realities without being harsh itself, focusing on hope and change. 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 viewers may, too, that what he's doing could result in more trouble rather than solutions. Writer/director Simon Steuri (who is White and Swiss) provides plenty of real-world threat in the film, including Eli having his shoes stolen and a jaw-dropping scene involving Daniel and the brothers' (clearly abusive) father (Method Man, in a blistering performance).
But all of this is contrasted with 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" first written on the boys' ceiling and later 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. And there are exquisite moments of magical realism, such as the boys burning a box of "Bad Memories" and 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, prompting comparisons to Moonlight and Imperial Dreams). How I Learned to Fly is a beautiful movie; it's unafraid of tragedy, but it's equally unafraid of hope.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Our Editors Recommend
Great Movies with Black Characters
Jerry Craft's Picks: Uplifting Books About Black and Brown Kids
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate