Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions.
The Secret Art of Human Flight is an innovative work of art with a lot of heart. It never takes itself too seriously and knows exactly what story it needs to be. Underneath the chaos, there is an important message about the nature of grief and relationships. While the zaniness may sometimes get out of hand, the movie never forgets its purpose. There is a lot to love in this little bundle of anarchy that is capable of eliciting both laughter and tears.
The movie tells the story of a grieving widower, Ben (Grant Rosenmeyer), who decides he needs to learn how to fly in order to cope with his loss. Along the way, he meets an eccentric man who goes by the name Mealworm (Paul Raci) on the dark web. Mealworm claims to have not only the secret to human flight but to all of Ben’s problems. Ben must find his own path to navigate his grief supported by those who love him.
The Secret Art of Human Flight is ultimately a meditation on grief and loss. The story is a surprisingly honest reflection on what the grieving process is. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that it is a messy, decidedly non-linear process. Ben illustrates that sometimes the wildest solutions are the most appealing. When there are no easy answers, it makes sense that many navigate the depths of grief by looking to the most unhinged activities to get their minds off of things.
Additionally, the movie’s commentary on the nature of relationships is incredibly poignant. Rather than putting a relationship on a pedestal even when it’s over, this story doesn’t flinch when it comes to being honest. As the story unfolds, Ben’s journey to recognize that his relationship with his wife was far from perfect, as much as her loss has impacted him. The fact that he’s allowed to come to this realization never takes away from his journey. If anything, it allows for a deeper exploration of his grief journey.
The standout performance has to go to Paul Raci. He’s a delightfully whacky guide to the unhinged world of the dark web. If one ordered an actual physical guide to human flight, Mealworm is who you’d picture immediately. He embodies the energy of the dark web by embodying sinister energy. He’s laughable until he isn’t, and his intentions are never clear. He’s a fun character to watch, even as he causes an immense amount of destruction.
If there’s anything negative to say about this story, it’s perhaps the ending. The ending feels like a complete deviation from the rest of the story. It would have been better for the final part of the story to lean into everything that had been set up to that point. It may have made more sense to simply leave the ending ambiguous and leave Ben reflecting on what the nature of human flight really is. This would have allowed him to also decide whether he really needed a spiritual mentor from the dark corners of the internet, or if he had strength within all along.
The Secret Art of Human Flight has a lot to love. While everything may not come together cohesively in the end, this is an endearing journey worth taking. Clearly, the team behind this story put so much thought into reflecting on loss and what it means to carry on. In the end, maybe we all desire the ability to fly and confront our fears and mortal constraints.
The Secret Art of Human Flight Premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.