Monday, June 17, 2013

American Flyers (1985)

I despise the whole genre of films where one of the main characters is slowly dying of some named or un-named disease. I hate the fact that we are forced to find some sort of grand nobility in the death of a character and the inevitable lesson of live each day as if it’s your last. I hate it almost as much as the literary and cinematic device of killing off a character or forcing some tragic turn in the last third or so of a film in order to give the film an ending and some weight (I have yet to ever see one of these films where the ending doesn’t feel forced).

There are exceptions of course, one of which is American Flyers.

American Flyers has Kevin Costner reconnecting with his family, and his brother in particular. Costner has just found that he has found out he has the same thing that killed their dad and while it may or may not kill him, he wants to put a few things right before it’s too late. To that end he enters himself and his brother in a cross country bike race in the hope of putting everything right.

As you can guess from the introduction Costner does end up taking a turn for the worse, but there is something about this film which kind of transcends the dying character genre to actually make it more about life than death. While death is kind of hanging around the edges, the film really doesn’t dwell on it. Instead it focusses on brothers being brother and the racing. It’s a film that is very much about what we do while waiting for death to come, which is living.

Now, despite going on about Costner dying, the film isn’t maudlin or down beat. It is rather up beat and hopeful. In all honesty it wasn’t until I saw the film for the 5th or 6th time on cable all those years ago that I realized he was dying. Stupid me just thought he was really really sick.

The thing about American Flyers is despite the sad turn of events you feel good when it’s done. It’s a film that makes you cheer and smile and feel really good. It makes me feel so good that back when this was a cable staple I’d pretty much stop and watch it whenever I ran across it.

I may hate the dying character genre but I love this film.

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