Rose-tinted nostalgia shouldn’t be that difficult to nail: Find a non-horrible kid actor; pipe in a soundtrack of retro jams; spin some episodic coming-of-age shenanigans with a few “that wouldn’t fly today!” twists; and bring it home with a treacly voiceover about the “good ‘ol days.” Bam! Thumbs up!
It’s amazing how badly Radio Flyer nosedives. To be fair, Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello are not horrible as the lead kids, they’re just thrown into a nightmare of a production.
The central problem is that the screenwriters decided to make the whole story child abuse misery porn. The entire movie contrives to make you feel shitty because Mike and Bobby’s step-dad is an abusive alcoholic. That’s basically it! There’s some window dressing about the imagination and neighborhood misadventures, but everything else is drowned out by the completely predictable, completely miserable abuse plot.
And the ending is a nonsensical clusterfuck. It presents with a straight face a magical realism twist about a toy contraption flying into the sky, but with enough ambiguity to beg alternate interpretations — the most obvious being Bobby’s death. The problem is that it does it all so half-heartedly that it registers as bafflingly pointless. Why?
One last complaint, not a core issue but still an emblem of the movie’s wasted potential: The soundtrack. It should be the easiest slam dunk to fill a late-mid-century Americana piece with radio pop, rock, and country numbers. There’s no easier trick to tickling the nostalgia receptors than needle drops. But Radio Flyer barely bothers: Just a few quickly-abandoned background jams. Major bummer.
I can’t really find much to actually recommend in the film. It looks decent enough; Tom Hanks is a good narrator; and that’s about it.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Very Not Good (1/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.