Shelagh McLeod’s film ASTRONAUT should probably actually entitled ASTRONAUT? The film follows the journey of an elderly civil engineer Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) who has just been put in a nursing home by his family. His eyes ever drawn to the sky, Richard enters a competition to be a Everyman civilian passenger on the first commercial flight into space, ignoring the 65-year-old age limit and the health requirements questions on the form. Once he reaches the finalist stage, Angus becomes convinced that the company has cut corners and the runway will not support the aircraft as it attempts to lift off. However, his concerns fall on deaf ears as the company is in a corporate race to be the first to get to space.
Astronaut suffers in much the same way the Hulu series FIRST MAN suffered. So much emphasis is placed on the characters trying to get to space and the personal battles they have, that the filmmakers seem to forget why somebody would be interested in the story in the first place, that it’s about somebody actually going to space. Especially when one has cast Richard Dreyfuss in a role not too subtlely invoking CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and mountains crafted from mash potatoes. Now ASTRONAUT may be suffering from some economic budgeting concerns that a Hulu series would not have, especially one that could afford Sean Penn (although I assume Richard Dreyfuss is not cheap either). Still, the viewer realizes very quickly in the process that at the pace the film is progressing we’re actually never going to make it into space and in this case the journey to the journey is not all that interesting. All of the conflicts and obstacles are lain out pretty simply and definitively in the first act or the first few minutes of the second act and the audience is always six steps ahead of the film which lumbers along at the pace of its octogenarian character. The performances in the film are rather one note which is surprising given Dreyfuss’s experience, although when a character is not given new obstacles over the course of 90 minutes there is not a whole lot they can do that will be fresh. In fact, the best performance comes from Lyriq Bent who plays the son-in-law, a man who feels that Angus is a interloper in his home but is also hiding his recent dismissal from his wife.
In the end ASTRONAUT is a forgettable diversion that squanders its lead actor for lack of depth.
Astronaut made its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival, but is available for streaming now in the US. Fantasia continues until August 1st.