Life in Flight

Life in Flight should prove to any aspiring screenwriter that you don't necessarily have to have an original story in order to get a screenplay made. In the film, which debuted at Tribeca on Sunday, first-time writer / director Tracey Hecht tells the tale of a man who's supposedly living the good life, but it's not the one he wants. And it takes meeting a young, vivacious woman for him to fully realize it.

Heard that story before? Sure you have, probably dozens of times. You've seen it in goofy romantic comedies from The Seven-Year Itch to Joe Versus the Volcano as well as "indie" dramas like Garden State. But good writing and acting always trumps originality of story, and Life in Flight has both, though there's still room for improvement.

Before I go into the story, can I say that I wish more movies were shown digitally? Life in Flight was projected digitally, and it showed: colors were brighter, pictures were clearer, and there wasn't any of the dirt or other crud you'd expect to see on traditional film. Granted, camera pans and other fast motion weren't as smooth as they'd be on film, but in a film like Life in Flight, there isn't much of that to worry about.

The movie centers around Will (Patrick Wilson), a successful, thirty-something architect who's about to merge his smaller firm with the developer he's collaborating with on a huge project in Brooklyn. He seems like he has the good life: his beautiful, ambitious wife Catherine (Amy Smart) their son Nate (Kevin Rosseljong), a well-kept brownstone, and a housekeeper. But he knows there's something wrong; Catherine's more concerned with his merger than with their marriage, and Will rarely gets to bond with Nate. Then, at a friend's dinner party, he meets a bubbly young designer named Kate (Lynn Collins), and a friendship develops. The friendship goes in directions that neither anticipates, but it helps Will see the light and be himself rather than what someone else wants him to be.

Hecht does a nice job invoking a sense of place in Life in Flight; she must know New York well, because she shows or mentions aspects of it that most visitors just never see, like the birds that fly out over the BQE. The visuals suggest a filmmaker who not only is in love with New York, but insisted on making sure there was no doubt that the film was made there instead of somewhere in Toronto.

At a running time of 78 minutes, there do seem to be some very large holes in the story that Hecht had plenty of time to fill in. Rashida Jones of The Office plays Christine's best friend and fellow over-privileged housewife; she's only in a couple of scenes and her presence in the story isn't really explained, as she disappears in the second half. In addition, the story of why Kate and her idiot brother have a conflict -- and a problem with their mother -- isn't really explored. In fact, I wanted to know a little more about Kate, since her love of life is what brings Will around. As it is now, she's no more than a Dharma to Will's Greg.

Wilson does a nice job making Will look like more than a henpecked husband. Smart, on the other hand, doesn't make for a convincing upwardly-mobile bitch. She doesn't have the range to make Catherine seem wicked and sympathetic at once, and when she gets emotional near the end of the film, it's not very convincing. What does work, though, is the chemistry between Wilson and Collins, which helps the viewer root for both of them to find what they want in life.

It's a good first effort for Hecht, but it's one that could have used some more time on the drawing board.