Sometimes, in order to fly, you have to let go of the wheel.
On a Wing and a Prayer tells the true story of Doug White (Dennis Quaid), a pharmacist who likes his life and home to be in order. Married to Terri (Heather Graham) and father to two daughters, Doug and his family are shocked to discover that his brother has passed away. On the way home from the funeral, they board a small private plane to head back home. However, shortly after take-off, the pilot suffers a severe heart attack. Suddenly, Doug is forced into the cockpit and must follow the advice of a flight instructor (Jesse Metcalfe) who’s working out of his garage in order to land the plane safely and save his family.
Directed by Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer, The Miracle Season), On a Wing and a Prayer is a film that begins with fear but is rooted in faith. Written by Brian Egerton, Prayer’s script keeps things simple. In essence, this is a story that wears its heart on its sleeve. While not exactly a ‘faith-based’ film, it keeps its message clear and leans into conversations about believing in more than what we see. While Egerton often keeps his dialogue fairly surface level, solid performances by Quaid, Graham and Metcalfe are enjoyable enough to keep the film in the air.
What Prayer does surprisingly well though is maintain its intensity. Despite the fact that the cockpit (and the plane itself) are incredibly small, the film uses its limited space well to its advantage. Keeping its camera tight on its stars, McNamara gives the viewer a sense of claustrophobic terror. It’s one thing to fear for your life in the air; it’s another thing entirely to fall to earth in what is essentially a tin can. With little room to maneuver, Prayer keeps the action moving as Doug furiously works away at the controls.
But, at the same time, this is also a film about letting go of the controls.
With a hopeful spirit, Prayer leans into the notion that our lives are out of our control. Although the plane is small, Doug hops on board with total trust that he’ll reach their destination. He knows the pilot. He trusts the situation. But, after things in the air go sideways, he and his family are thrust into a situation more dangerous than he could have imagined. Certainly, it was not in his plans… and it’s definitely out of his control. In this way, Prayer speaks to the idea of faith in the Divine. As their tiny play falls from the sky, Doug needs to let go of his plans and trust in a God (and airline workers) that he can’t see. (The old phrase “God is my co-pilot” takes on a very different meaning here.)
But faith isn’t always that simple. Broken by the loss of his brother, Doug’s journey towards ‘letting go’ has been shaken. After all, why would (or, better yet, how could) the same God who let his beloved sibling die suddenly ‘get them through’? Doug’s hurt becomes the lens by which he views the world and it shakes his faith in any form of the Divine.
Even so, the film is called On a Wing and Prayer for a reason. This is a story designed to remind the viewer that, even though there are moments in life that leave us lost, they have not been abandoned by the Creator. This is the sort of story that serves as reassurance that help comes from places where you least expect it in the moments that we need it most. Because, even though he’s stuck in impossible circumstances, White is never flying solo.
On a Wing and a Prayer is available on Prime Video on April 7th, 2023.