(AKA Teenage Dream, Dream to Believe) 1986, Starring Olivia d'Abo, Keanu Reeves, Rita Tushingham, Nichole Koleman, Sean McCann. Directed by Paul Lynch.
Proving that no genre is beyond his grasp, director Paul Lynch has tackled everything from Canadian "loser" films to kickboxing epics, slasher horror to rural revenge flicks. He may be one of the most versatile directors in Canada, but I'll bet you didn't see this one coming.
I don't like the term "chick flick," so let's just say that Flying is a b-movie for the fairer demographic. It has a torrid romance, heart string plucking, and the plot revolves around (ahem!) gymnastics. But wait, you say, there's already a Canadian film about the trials and tribulations of the leotard set: Lawrence Dane's risqu cheese-fest Heavenly Bodies (1984)! Well, besides a common fondness for Flashdance (1983), Flying differs in two important ways: it manages to unleash an even more brutal soundtrack, and it's directed at pre-pubescent girls!
In 1986, Olivia d'Abo also appeared as the redneck love interest in Lynch's violence-packed Bullies, a film which is pretty much the polar opposite of Flying. This time around she stars as Robin, a teenage girl who likes gymnastics. Really likes gymnastics. As in, I hope you enjoy watching gymnastics, because that's what you're going to be doing for the next two hours. Also of interest is the fact that Flying marks Keanu Reeves' first film appearance. With less screen time than you might expect, Keanu finds himself in a losing battle to out-Ducky Jon Cryer as lovable loser Tommy. And the unrequited love of Tommy is not this film's only veiled allusion to Pretty in Pink? Robin is a girl "from the wrong side of the tracks" in love with hunky rich guy Mark, and she even seems to be sharing a wardrobe designer with Molly Ringwald.
The film itself is a rollercoaster of highs and lows (okay, mostly lows), as Robin goes through more character-building life experiences in 100 minutes than most people do in their whole lives. Robin's the new kid in town, but instead of hanging around to make friends after school, she works all night with her sick mother at a dingy dry cleaning shop owned by her cruel stepfather Jack. Like the rest of us, Robin's only release is to pull on some leg warmers, grab a pink cassette deck and sneak out to abandon warehouses to practice gymnastics.
Work is hard, and school isn't much better. Especially when Leah, head of the school's snooty gymnastics squad "The Flyers," decides that she doesn't like Robin. See, Robin is smitten with Leah's boyfriend Mark, and wants to get on the team to show off what she can do. After befriending Carly, one of the lesser Flyers, Robin explains that she used to seriously compete until an injury ended her career. Carly invites her to come out for team anyways, but when Robin's knee gives out, the try-out it ends in disaster. She is humiliated in front of Mark, and Leah tells the others that her performance was "sooo pathetic.
That's when the violins swell and we learn that Robin's knee injury was the result of a car accident. You know, the same car accident that killed her Dad, and opened the door for Jack the evil dry cleaner? The rollercoaster begins another slow climb a second try-out finally gets Robin on the team, and scores her a chance to be one of the Flyers' top three gymnasts to compete at a meet in Niagara Falls. Robin even gets an invitation to one of Mark's parties.
Suddenly, Robin's life falls off the pommel horse. Turns out Leah printed up phony invitations which advised her to dress "funky" instead of formal. When she shows up at Mark's party wearing some 1980s abomination of taste, she is once again red-faced. Then, not only does an impromptu gymnastics competition between Robin and Leah at the local drive-in restaurant get broken up by the "very disappointed" coach, but Carly collapses one day at practice. Seems the competition to get to Niagara Falls is too tough and she's been taking speed to lose weight.
Not surprisingly, Robin makes the team, but the script isn't finished shitting all over her. Turns out the coach only put her on the team to drive Leah harder! Then, Jack slaps Robin for showing more interest in gymnastics than the art of pressing clothing, and she is forced to stand up to him and quit. Okay, things aren't going too well, but at least she still has the support of her terminally ill mother, right? Er, I guess I mean "had."
So, where has Tommy been all this time? Well, he's been slouching around school, trying to get Robin's attention. But I mean c'mon, we're talking about competing with the thrill-a-minute world of gymnastics here! At one point, Tommy gives up and starts dating another girl to make Robin notice him and she does. Luckily, they get together just in time for Robin to have a place to stay after infuriating her father and discovering her Mother's death. Before the big gymnastics meet (which you can probably guess the outcome of) Lynch crams all the romance into a couple of candle-lit nights at Tommy's house.
Like Bill Fruet's film Search and Destroy, Flying has a neat little location trick up its sleeve. While the majority of the film is set in a nameless urban sprawl (actually Toronto), the gymnastics meet takes place at Niagara Falls, a famous site which straddles Canada and the U.S. This way, the movie can be filmed on the Canadian side while the audience naturally assumes, with the help of some conspicuously placed flags, that this is an American production.
Those curious enough to pick up a copy of the film for Keanu's appearance alone might actually find that scenes of stunt doubles twirling away on parallel bars are a welcome break from trying to figure out his vacant expressions.