(director: Justin Baldoni; screenwriters: Kara Holden/Patrick Kopka/story by Casey La Scala/based on the book “Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way” by Laura Sobiech; cinematographer: Ben Kutchins; editor: Brett M. Reed; music: Bryan Tyler; cast: Sabrina Carpenter (Sammy Brown),  Fin Angus (Zach Sobiech),  Neve Campbell (Laura Sobiech), Madison Iseman (Amy Adamle), Tom Everett Scott (Rob Sobiech), Lil Rel Howery (Mr. Weaver), Vivien Endicott-Douglas (Alli), Summer H. Howell (Grace); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Andrew Lazar/Casey La Scala/Justin Baldoni; Warner Bros./Disney +; 2020)

“A tough watch and not for everyone.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Actor turned director Justin Baldoni (“Five Feet Apart”), noted for TV’s “Jane the Virgin,” presents a tearjerker musical biopic YA film about a teen rocker faced with terminal cancer. His other feature film was also about a terminally-ill protagonist. It’s adapted from the book by the victim singer’s mom Laura Sobiech (Neve Campbell) entitled “Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way.”  The screenplay is written by Kara Holden and Patrick Kopka, who based it on the inspirational true story. Disney took it off the hands of Warner Bros., after it was filmed, but somehow the film followed the wholesome family Disney formula for filming.

The good-natured seventeen-year-old Zach Sobiech (Fin Angus) is a musically talented high school senior in Minnesota.

Zach and his best friend, a female named Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter), recorded the song Clouds on Youtube and got hundreds of millions of downloads. The popular student loves a good time and hanging out with girlfriend Amy (Madison Iseman). But things become gloomy when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and must go through chemotherapy before succumbing to the cancer at age 18.

Zach goes through the rest of his life bald, as he lives with his loving parents (Neve Campbell, Tom Everett Scott) and three siblings. Dealing with this cancer is draining for him and his family, as it is for the viewer who could only have sympathy for the stoic kid. Looking for a miracle, the devout Christian family goes to Lourdes for the healing waters. But there’s no miracles for Zach.

I just don’t know how such a grim story (even if pleasantly told) will affect the viewer. I guess each viewer has their own feelings in handling such a downbeat drama. Though Zach bravely deals with his karma and is calm about facing his death sentence, my feeling is that this was a tough watch and not for everyone. The film never flinches in showing how life can unfairly take the life of someone so good and so young, which might be a good thing for some viewers to ponder. But others might be turned off without a happy ending.

We’re left knowing that the upbeat song of dying, “Clouds,” was professionally recorded (the duo signed a contract with BMI) as a single and it hit the top of the iTunes charts in 2013.

REVIEWED ON 11/1/2020  GRADE: C+