The first thing I noticed this morning was that Janet Grillo‘s Fly Away, which I’d been planning to see sooner or later, has an 88% positive on Rotten Tomatoes — technically the highest rating of all the narrative films opening today. Only eight top-tier critics have posted reviews so take the rating in context, but I still felt excited and freshly enthused about seeing it.

Had I been invited to a screening or been sent a screener? Nope.

Fly Away is about a divorced mom (Beth Broderick) dealing with a daughter (Ashley Rickards) afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s inspired by Grlllo’s own life to a certain extent as she and ex-husband David O. Russell (The Fighter) have been co-raising an autistic son, Matthew, who’s now 15 and, she says, “emerging out of autism.”

She calls the film “personal but not autobiographical…not a soggy melodrama or movie-of-the-week” but “a love story between a parent and a child.”

N.Y. Times reviewer Jeanette Catsoulis more or less agrees, calling Fly Away “a defiantly unsentimental look at the complex codependency between a harried single mother and her severely autistic daughter.”

I’ve known Janet since my period of employment at New Line Cinema’s Manhattan office in the mid ’80s as a freelance publicist. She was a development and then a production executive at the company. In 1992 she married Russell, whom she came to know initially from working on developing Spanking The Monkey (’94); they divorced in ’07.

Most of Grillo’s time and energy was devoted, once Matthew’s autistic condition surfaced, to raising her son in the late ’90s and over the last decade. But she gradually got back into film by exec producing Autism, The Musical and directing two shorts — At The Beach with Lucinda Jenney (’07) and Flying Lessons (’08), which starred Dana Delany.

(l.) Janet Grillo and (r.) costar Beth Broderick during filming of Fly Away.

Fly Away is the feature that grew out of Flying Lessons.

Fly Away was shot it in June and July of 2010. Grillo finished cutting it last November, and the film premiered at SXSW last month. (Where I missed it…naturally.) I’m planning on seeing it tonight or sometime tomorrow or Sunday at the Laemmle Muisc Hall on Wilshire.

“There’s been a 53% increase over the past decade in diagnosing autism,” Grillo states. “That’s why it’s important to tell this story. 500,00 kids with autism are now reaching adulthood, and most of them will never live independently.”

Her son has been “emerging” out of autism largely due to a therapeutic boarding school (i.e., the Glenholme School in Washington, Connecticut) that he’s been attending in recent years. The effect has been “transformative,” she says, and yet it’s “just one place…we need 1000 Glenholmes in this country.”