ASTRONAUT belongs to the genre of old-fart films where the protagonist is a senior and has to come to terms with age and usually makes good, be it in romance or achieving ones final goal in life. Thankfully, it is the latter.
The protagonist is 75-year old widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) who lives with his daughter’s family. His son-in-law, Jim (Lyriq Bent) convinces the daughter, Molly (Krista Bridges) to move Angus into a retirement home. His life seems over; he feels worthless and alone. But Angus’s long extinguished dream is reignited when an exciting national competition is announced. The prize is one golden ticket for a trip to space! Way past the age limit at 65, he doesn’t have a chance. But spurred on by his grandson, Barney (Richie Lawrence) Angus fudges his birthdate, and enters the competition. Against all odds, he must battle against prejudice, ill health, and win the contest. Angus discovers too that the rocket is not safe, being a civil engineer. A subplot requires him to tell the organizers of the problem but no one would believe an old man.
The film’s best parts is surprisingly nothing to do with his space trip. It is his realization that he has to move and adapt into a retirement home. From the looks of the home, it is quite attractive, spacious and grand and I doubt that anyone including myself (when I am old, of course) would mind staying there. One feels for Angus.
The film features a mixed raced family, husband (African American) and wife (white), something much more common in films these days.
The film’s subplot concerns Angus Stewart’s family. The son-in-law has loses his job for standing up for his principles.
ASTRONAUT is in part another Richard Dreyfuss vehicle. For those who remember, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for his role in THE GOODBYE GIRL primarily for the scene where he made audiences cry when he played an actor realizing in his dressing room how bad his performance was as a crippled Hamlet. Dreyfuss plays a senior inches in ASTRONAUT and it was not that long ago when audiences saw him as a teen in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and in the other space film, Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
The other performance worthy of mention belongs to Native Canadian (born on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, Canada) Graham Greene (best remembered in THUNDERHEART) who plays a fellow resident of the retirement home. He is to given much to say but still makes a screen presence.
ASTRONAUT is McLeod’s first feature and it shows. The film meanders from being a family conflict drama and a space adventure while not satisfying either. The one thing going for the film is Dreyfuss’ performance. Dreyfuss had at one time turned into the most annoying actor on the planet, but his controlled acting here shows the actor this best when he was in films like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE BIG FIX.
The film has a odd tacked on sort-of happy ending that could have been better though of.