Although it isn’t a new sub-genre, the movie about an elderly person getting one last chance at life in their twilight years is a hit and miss proposition. Last year Richard Dreyfuss starred in one such film, the offensive picture The Last Laugh. This year comes his latest, the low budget Canadian film Astronaut, a film designed for the dreamer in all of us, about a man who spent most of his life keeping things safe on the ground, going up and taking risks in space. A simple story meshed with a messy family saga that for all its heart can never make this uneventful tale of wish fulfilment believable and for a film that spends most of its run as a family drama with only a small spattering of science fiction magic, that’s somewhat astounding.
Written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, Astronaut tells the story of 75 year old Angus (Dreyfuss), a proud man trying not to be a burden to his family while still holding on to a little of his dignity. When an oportunity to go into space arises in the form of a competition run by Elon Musk substitute Marcus Brown (a bored Colm Feore), Angus does everything in his power to win, even if it is the last thing he does.
Although the notion that it is never too late to live out your dreams lingers in the background, Astronaut feels like a tale about looking back on a life and deciding if it was full or not and thanks to an empty script its hard to really see that through the thicket of uninspiring twists and turns. Angus has a heart problem but it never raises tension, he has a contentious relationship with his son in law Jim(Lyriq Bent), he hasn’t let go of his prior life with his now deceased wife. All these elements are thrown in with no time or effort spent connecting them to how they affect Angus. Dreyfuss admirably adds a strength of character to Angus that feels missing in all of Astronaut’s directionless soul searching.
Weighed down by a past that is as lost to us as it is to Angus, Astronaut is so wrapped up in its own melodrama that it misses the optimistic person that Angus is. The score for all its sombre violin notes treats Angus like he is already dead, a ghost living in a story that should be triumphant, not melancholy. The collection of friends Angus makes in his nursing home, despite serving as a comic relief crutch in a story desperately seeking levity never seem to serve a purpose outside of reminding us and Angus of his age, his fragility and that he is near the end of the road, not walking down a new one.
Mcleod’s film has plenty of heart and good intentions but a tale about optimism and looking forward to new things, embracing possibilities instead of settling in for the end, feels more cynical than hopeful and because of that Angus’ oldest wish like a pipe dream, an unbelievable tale in an equally far-fetched world. While its nice to dream of the sky and the world above ours, this film never really takes off.