‘7000 Miles’ Review: Wendie Malick Lifts Indie Dementia Drama

There are narrative flourishes and then there are narrative flourishes. And one in the new film from director Amy Glazer (Seducing Charlie Barker, The Surrogate) is a doozy. How much you appreciate this heartwarming drama about a female pilot who discovers that her grandmother may actually be a legendary figure in aviation history will depend on how much you’re willing to go along with its major plot twist, which won’t be revealed here but is relatively easy to figure out. But if you’re willing to suspend some disbelief, 7000 Miles, recently showcased at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, offers myriad pleasures, not the least of which is a terrific performance by Wendie Malick. The veteran sitcom actress (Dream On, Just Shoot Me, Hot in Cleveland) anchors the film with her charismatic turn in a rare leading role that Katharine Hepburn would have killed for.

The central character in this story set in 1977, however, is Jo (well played by Alixzandra Dove, who also produced), a female pilot frustrated over the prevalent sexism that prevents her from rising higher in her profession. Jo flies for Sky’s the Limit, a small charter airline she runs with her fiancé Richard (David Sheftell), but the company’s snooty clients tend to prefer males in the cockpit.

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When Jo receives word that her grandfather Bert (Grease 2’s Maxwell Caufield, seen in flashbacks) has died, she returns to her native Hawaii for the funeral and to console her 80-year-old grandmother Meli (Malick). There she reunites with her childhood friend Zack (Laird Akeo), who has grown into a strapping young man. She also discovers that her beloved Meli is suffering from odd memory lapses and hallucinations, which are soon diagnosed as symptoms of Lewy body dementia.

Meli begins referring to Jo not by her real name but as “Pidge” and to her late husband not as Bert but “George” (these are clues, folks). She also makes references to having once been an airplane pilot and having crashed. Eventually Jo realizes that her grandmother may not simply be suffering from dementia but may have also once been a world-famous figure, and with Zack’s help seeks to discover the truth. She shares her theory with her fiancé, who smells a financial windfall for his struggling company and immediately hurries to Hawaii to take advantage. The more he presses her, the more Jo begins to reassess her life decisions.

Director Glazer leans into the languid rhythms of her setting, letting the story proceed at an unhurried pace that allows you to soak in the gorgeous atmosphere. The obviously low-budget film benefits greatly from the Hawaiian locations (it was shot in Oahu and Molokai and will instantly make you want to book a vacation there) and its immersion in the area’s customs, including an ocean funeral conducted by mourners on surfboards and beautiful music played by local musicians.

The screenplay by Collette Freedman isn’t always subtle, but succeeds in getting you caught up in the mystery of Meli’s (the name is another clue) actual identity. But the film wouldn’t work as nearly as well as it does without Malick, who projects both touching vulnerability and steely strong-mindedness. When Meli plunges into the ocean for a morning swim, displaying an admirably toned body and reminding her granddaughter of the need to “stay fit,” it conveys the fierce determination that makes the possibility of another identity all the more plausible.

The supporting performances are another plus, including an amusingly droll turn by Hawaiian native and acting newcomer Lori Pelenise Tuisano and a welcome appearance by veteran actress Juliet Mills (Nanny and the Professor, Avanti!), whose decades-long marriage to the significantly younger Caufield certainly ranks as one of show biz’s happier stories.

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