Roger Ebert Home

The Secret Art of Human Flight

Ben (Grant Rosenmeyer) is not okay. His wife and artistic collaborator Sarah (Reina Hardesty) died suddenly, leaving him in a state of shock. He forgets to eat, he forgets to sleep. Stuck in a neverending stupor, he forgets to take care of himself. When his concerned sister Gloria (Lucy DeVito) and her husband Tom (Nican Robinson) leave for a short trip, she puts Ben on the front lawn to get some fresh air – only that's where he stays for the several days while she is gone, unmotivated to move out of the sun or back into the comforts of home. 

His grief over the loss of his wife leads him to search for something more – something bigger than all of this. He finds an enigmatic figure on the dark web named Mealworm (Paul Raci), who promises to teach his would-be student the so-called secret art of human flight. Ben’s guru shows up at his doorstep with even tougher training demands than he originally anticipated. Still, as Gloria grows concerned and a local detective suspects his motives, Ben must choose whether to believe the stranger now living in his house or those concerned for his safety. 

Director H.P. Mendoza’s “The Secret Art of Human Flight” is more of a journey through grief than the discovery of human flight. Through old videos and flashbacks, we see glimpses of Ben’s life with Sarah, the good parts, their silly creative process when working on children’s books, and the tougher parts of any relationship – the moments when things feel out of sync when your partner blindsides you with news or leaves a conversation in a huff. 

Yet it’s because of these moments playing repeatedly in Ben’s mind that we get the sense of who this couple was, the upbeat companion Ben lost, and what he stands to lose when Mealworm tells him to leave it all behind. Ben is almost constantly wrestling with his emotions, grief over losing Sarah, hesitant faith in Mealworm’s unorthodox coaching, and eagerness to find solace in a world that no longer makes sense to him. Mendoza balances Ben’s shifting moods with a sense of tenderness and earnestness, following Rosenmeyer’s performance closely to capture every nuance, from numb stares off to the distance to the anger he feels when it seems like Mealworm has betrayed Ben. 

Written by Jesse Orenshein, the script for “The Secret Art of Human Flight” is just as inventive as it is emotional. He creates a shared dynamic for Ben and Sarah that feels more realistic than idealistic and gets the audience on board with Ben’s impossible quest, even if one’s alarm bells go off during Mealworm’s pitch. Like “Alice in Wonderland,” we follow Ben down the rabbit hole through an adventure that’s both strange and clarifying. 

Orenshein also creates Mealworm’s unusual training regimen and belief system through the chapters of a self-help book he sends Ben, asking him to jump over shards of glass, sleep on his roof, lose 18 pounds, and talk like a bird for a week in the hopes to teach him how to fly. Raci’s character acts as if Wonderland’s caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat became a life coach, and the actor looks to be having the time of his career, making weird requests with an amused smile, pushing Ben to his limit over and over again. The only note that rings false is the character of Detective Reyes (Rosa Arredondo), who telegraphs her investigation of Ben a little too clearly, almost villainously so. 

Working with the constraints of a modest production, cinematographer Markus Mentzer creates some visually intriguing scenes, like when a naked Ben meditates among clouds he made in a sunlit room he was instructed to paint sky blue. It’s a vulnerable scene, but it’s perhaps one of the first times we see him in a state of calm, and he returns to that moment of grounding a few times. 

There is a lo-fi scrappiness to the visual style of the film that doesn’t detract from Ben’s story entirely, but it is noticeable. Mendoza, who also took on editing duties in addition to directing, doesn’t quite have the same gift for the former, and some scenes feel like they drag a beat or two past their prime and use silly post effects that make the movie look less polished. 

But what will stick with viewers is most likely Mendoza and Orenshein’s tender portrait of the act of grieving: its crushing lows, its tearful ruminations, ecstatic breakthroughs, periods of feeling nothing, all the complicated aspects that accompany that process. No one else can feel Ben’s loss as deeply as he does, but various players help him in their own way. It’s his journey, and we’re just along for the ride — or in this case, the flight. 

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to

Now playing

Cora Bora
Family Portrait

Film Credits

The Secret Art of Human Flight movie poster

The Secret Art of Human Flight (2024)

107 minutes


Grant Rosenmeyer as Ben Grady

Paul Raci as Mealworm

Maggie Grace as Wendy

Lucy DeVito as Gloria

Reina Hardesty as Sarah

Nican Robinson as Tom


Latest blog posts


comments powered by Disqus