Astronaut – Film Review

Imagine being able to fulfil your life’s dream in your golden years post-retirement and that this impossible dream was to embark on space travel. Such a dream belongs to the protagonist, Angus, captivatingly played by Richard Dreyfuss in Astronaut. Space travel has also featured within Proxima from earlier this year but it is rare to examine such space aspirations from the perspective of the older generation.

Having Richard Dreyfuss onboard certainly propels Astronaut into the stratosphere despite its limitations as a low budget film. Astronaut is the aspirational, directorial debut of Shelagh McLeod. Astronaut is a heart-warming, feel-good tale, which does require its audience to suspend its disbelief momentarily and to become enticed by its charm. Angus lies about his age to enter a lottery where the prize is to become part of the crew on a billionaire’s commercial space craft. Assisted by his irrepressible grandson, Barney, played with such charm by Richie Lawrence, Angus convinces his loved ones and friends to keep his competition entry a secret from his daughter, Molly.

Angus and Barney with a telescope in Astronaut
Angus and Barney with a telescope in Astronaut

Scenes within Angus’ shed with a telescope set up permanently outside establish the structure of Astronaut. Angus is widowed and it appears that he may no longer have the means to remain in the former home shared with his wife and perhaps not the inclination with the associated painful memories. As such, his home is being sold, which Molly is arranging on his behalf. Astronaut is therefore set up to tug at your heart strings as it becomes apparent that this space mission provides that glimmer of hope for Angus as he says that it may be ‘the last opportunity’ for him to visit space.

Whilst space travel is the main focus in Astronaut, we see lingering shots of Angus watching the stars, the film also focuses on the ailments afflicting the older generation. It is not often that such perspective is presented in a space travel context as we witness Angus fainting at home. His family believe that a care home may be suited to Angus’ needs much to the chagrin of his grandson. The chemistry between Dreyfuss and the young Lawrence is joyous to watch and increases the emotional resonance.

The tone within Astronaut, whilst slow paced, is modified whilst observing Angus’ new life within the care home. Despite being a septuagenarian, Angus has a youthfulness compared to some of the other residents and as such, you may find yourself sympathising with Angus and willing him to return home and to win the competition.

Richard Dreyfuss as Angus in Astronaut
Richard Dreyfuss as Angus in Astronaut

Despite the predictable nature of the storyline within Astronaut, there are some humorous scenes within the new life that Angus forges within the care home. At times, reminiscent of scenes within Cloud Atlas with the character Timothy Cavendish in a care home, there are some truly slapstick moments. However, Astronaut does not shield its audience from the reality of old age; therefore, with a degree of poignancy, there are scenes involving the various health tests undertaken and that impending sense of death is discussed. Astronaut, however, under McLeod’s direction avoids becoming bleak although it is inspired by the loss of her parents.

Astronaut is Dreyfuss’ film and indeed his performance carries the film. There are some thinly developed characters amongst those working with the billionaire, Marcus, organising the competition and whilst it may not convince audiences that a septuagenarian could proceed in the competition, and equally question the structural components of the mission, there is such hopefulness within Astronaut to outweigh those criticisms.

Plus, there are some beautiful panoramic shots by night of the stars and Angus’ passion for astronomy is similarly mesmerising to watch. In one poignant scene, we can sense that Angus could potentially sit outside all night observing the stars given his reluctance to return indoors when bid to do so by a care home worker.

Angus viewing the stars in Astronaut
Angus viewing the stars in Astronaut

Naturally, Angus’ state of health is a concern to his family, but would you prevent a loved one from following their dreams? Astronaut does not gloss over such bittersweet aspects and the sentimentality of the film is likely to evoke the odd tear or two at certain points. The film’s preference appears to be on the emphasis of relationships and therefore does not focus on the build up to the space mission as seen in films such as First Man and even Proxima to a degree. This decision not to highlight the commercial space craft is unfortunately part of the limitations of Astronaut given its low budget nature. However, this does not detract from the overall impression of Astronaut which is just the positive tonic needed during these times of uncertainty with the Covid-19 outbreak.

Astronaut has been nominated for five awards in the National Film Awards which are now due to occur in July 2020. One of such nominations is for McLeod as Best Director and another is for Richard Dreyfuss as Best Actor. Unfortunately, Astronaut was unable to be released in cinemas in March for its theatrical run and has therefore been released early on digital and is now available to watch on UK streaming platforms.

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