Astronaut is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if Grandpa Joe had won the ticket, but instead of a stroll around a delightful chocolate factory, this ticket can bag you a trip to the stars. Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) is an ageing wannabe astronaut who gets one final chance at his dream when he enters a competition to go into space, courtesy of a billionaire’s new commercial spaceflight endeavour. However, he first has to battle his own ill health and his family’s objections before he can be launched to the heavens.
Space is such a delightful prospect because it is all about dreams and escaping the hardships of your earthly life, which is exactly what Shelagh McLeod’s movie addresses. Sentimentality, rather than regret, is the order of the day, a feeling best expressed by Angus himself – “a life well lived is long enough.”
At the heart is a gentle, charming performance from Dreyfuss, who never once allows any bitterness to creep in. His past is marked by failure, but he takes it all in stride keeping a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Also impressive is Krista Bridges, who lifts the relationship between Angus and his daughter to something more than the petty disagreement demanded by the script. Not all the characters win you over – if we are meant to feel sorry for Lyriq Bent’s character, then he shouldn’t have been a banker struck off for corruption.
The basis of the story is a strong one then, but Astronaut struggles to generate any sort of engagement with the story. Angus, while very likeable, is not the most interesting character to watch. Astronaut opts to take the unexpected path in the hope of offering something different. Instead, it is often dull. Angus’ revelations about geology is hardly edge-of-your-seat stuff, and all the while you are waiting for the big moment when he finally goes to space.
Yet you wait so long, and the moment feels very out of place when it does come, that it almost wasn’t worth it. Instead of ebbing out on a nice note, the ending instead jars badly with what the film has been telling you up until now. The story settles on a motif of ‘a life on earth can be its own adventure’ before needlessly tearing up its own message. McLeod’s decision to go down the drearier path often backfires.
McLeod’s film isn’t anywhere near as remarkable as space itself, or most movies about space, but nevertheless makes for a fairly pleasant journey. With a gentle performance from Dreyfuss leading the way, Astronaut is a reflective and heartwarming tale of ageing that is let down simply by not settling comfortably on the story it wants to be.
Astronaut releases on demand April 27th.