By Kenny Hedges
For the majority of Astronaut‘s runtime, the action remains primarily on earth. Fitting, as Shelagh McLeoud’s drama, is less about space travel and more about a life full of regrets; the times we didn’t set out for for the stars.
In a sense, that plot mirrors America’s own interest in space travel. 50 years after the space race culminated in the moon landing, interest in space travel quickly disappated. By the time the Challenger exploded, public attention to rockets launching off Cape Caneveral had all but dried up. Funding for NASA took a dive. Today, a newfound interest in taking off beyond the atmosphere has reignited, with a strong focus on commercial space travel from billionaires like Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
Astronaut, too, has a Musk/Branson composite in character actor Colm Feore’s billionaire tycoon Marcus, who creates a competition to select the first average citizen to pilot a spacecraft. Enter 80-year-old Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), a retired civil engineer in mourning for his recently departed wife. Spurned on by his astronomy-obsessed grandson, Angus enters the competition, rekindling his lifelong dream of space travel.
Dreyfuss is used to his full potential, playing Angus’ morning and grumpy old man to perfection. His crotchety old man provides some genuinely funny moments, and his relationship with his grandson is surprisingly touching.
It’s in the direction where the film falters. The script by McLoud is a perfectly charming film in the vein of Cocoon, but his first time behind the camera is often pedestrian, better suited to a high-quality TV movie. The film’s old-school morality and telegraphed message is nothing deep or terribly original, but it still rings true.
Nevertheless, Dreyfuss and Feore make for a nice pairing, both eccentric in their own way. Even the last act addition of intrigue when Angus uses his civil engineering background to spot a fatal, Challenger-esque flaw doesn’t feel out of left field, and the actor’s bitterness toward most of those in his field clearly less qualified is amusing.
It may overstay it’s welcome somewhat, but Dreyfuss makes it well worth the length.