If I Had Wings Review

if_i_had_wings_xlgTitle: If I Had Wings

Director: Allan Harmon

Year Released: 2013

Available on Netflix (US)?: Yes

Final Verdict: Watch

If I Had Wings is far from the first movie to feature a blind character, and it isn’t the first to feature a blind teen boy. In fact, the trio of the two boys and the girl reminded me a little of the Brazilian film Love is Blind, although Alex (Richard Harmon, The 100), the blind teen in this film, isn’t gay. With the sports theme of this film, I was worried it would fall into a lot of the tropes of the genre, and probably would end up being pure inspiration porn.

However, I was immensely surprised to find that If I Had Wings actually portrays blindness realistically and is pretty disability-positive.

The premise of the film is that Alex, who has been totally blind since he was two-years-old (due to an infection) is a runner, but he’s too fast for his dad and because of his blindness, can’t run on his own. His dream is to join the cross country team at his school, but the coach is reluctant to accept him because of his blindness. However, his dad is persistent, and convinces the coach that if he can find someone to run with him, to give Alex a chance to tryout for the team.

In comes Brad, a juvenile delinquent who’s on his way to juvie, except Alex’s father (who works as a probation officer) intervenes. He’s read Brad’s record and sees he can run, and offers him a deal–he can stay out of juvie if he’ll be Alex’s guide and try out for the team.

One of the things I really love about this film is how realistically Alex’s blindness is portrayed throughout–from tiny details like how he gets around (a cane when he’s not at home, touching the wall or whatever when he is) to his Braille watch to how he “runs” on his own by going up and down the stairs. We see his limitations–like when he falls a few times while running because he can’t see where he is, for example–but they’re never meant to show him as a pitiful figure. Even better, we see the balance between his parents–the mother, who wants to coddle him, and the father who wants him to be as independent as possible.

But what I really, really love is how the film shows Alex as a strong figure who’s able to take charge of his life and make his own decisions. When something happens due to his blindness and his friends, coach, etc., step in to “take care of” the situation for him, Alex becomes indignant. “Everyone’s looking out for me like the little blind kid who needs help from being abused or something.” He doesn’t want people to handle things for him. “My skin isn’t that thin,” he reminds his friends at one point. “Don’t you guys think for once I might have my own agenda?” And then he goes to the coach himself to tell her how he wants the incident to be handled.

Even better, the “big race” toward the end of the movie ends with the symbolism of Brad letting Alex finish the last straightaway on his own. So yes, Alex may need some help with certain things because of his blindness, but that doesn’t mean he’s helpless or that he should be an object of pity. (He even gets a date with one of the hot cheerleaders at the end.) So it was a really disability-positive message, and I loved that.

I also liked how the movie tackled the issue of racism (Brad is at least part Native American), both the subtle and not-so-subtle shades of it. For example, at one point Brad’s dad (Angus) goes to talk to the cross country coach at her apartment and she resists answering the door at first, picking up a bat. She ends up letting him in and he makes a joke of it, adding how he carries mace himself because of all the derelicts out there. Throughout the film, shows Angus is portrayed as someone who’s actually a really nice guy and a loving father despite being forced to raise his two sons on his own.

I also watched this film with the closed captioning on, and it did a really good job of capturing the dialog, distinguishing between speakers, sound effects, etc. It even included the lyrics to the song at the end, “If I Had Wings,” although be aware that while the Netflix version has a few bits of dialog that were censored, the CC has the original words (though it’s really nothing major).

All-in-all, a really worthwhile little film, and I thought it has a great message. Recommended.

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