Many decades after the classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” follows actor Richard Dreyfuss in ASTRONAUT once again the loud call of the universe. We’ll reveal in our review of the film whether the tragicomedy is convincing.
OT: Astronaut (CAN 2019)
Retired road engineer Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss) has dreamed all his life of one day flying into space as an astronaut. At the age of 75, the fulfillment of Angus’ longing is within reach: the last available seat on the first commercial space flight of the passionate self-made billionaire Marcus Brown (Colm Feore) is to be awarded via a television lottery. Although Angus has recently moved into a retirement home due to health problems at the initiative of his daughter Molly (Krista Bridges), he takes part in the lottery. He used little tricks and the active help of his grandson (Richie Lawrence). Now he is actually the oldest applicant in the preselection. Soon afterwards, a dangerous vulnerability in Marcus’ space project is discovered. So a race against time begins in which not only Angus’ flight to the stars is at stake…
Directing is not a question of age. Nevertheless, there is a trend emerging when directing talents release their first professional film: M. Night Shyamalan was 21 years old when his debut debuted. Greta Gerwig released her directorial debut at the age of 24, Steven Spielberg’s “Duell” was released shortly before his 25th birthday. Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” premiered just five days before Welles’ 26th birthday; Quentin Tarantino was 28 years old when “Reservoir Dogs” came out. And Rian Johnson, Cameron Crowe and Charlie Chaplin were all 32 years old when they made their respective debuts. Richard Attenborough, 46, and Michael Haneke, 47, are among the well-known directors who only made their debut in later years.
Marcus Brown (Colm Feore)
But these two are also overshadowed by Shelagh McLeod. After an acting career (“The Last Island”, “Holby City”) and three short films, she made her feature film directing debut at the comparatively proud age of 59. And that’s a piece of background information that shouldn’t be ignored when you approach her tragicomedy “Astronaut” – after all, it’s about a man who, after a long and fulfilling life as a road construction engineer, can finally hope to fulfill his decades-old dream : He would like to fly into space as an astronaut one day. Now it’s by Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss (“The Subtenant”, “Zoff in Beverly Hills”) At 75 years old, Angus Stewart is once again older than McLeod and being an astronaut is much more stressful for one’s physical well-being than directing. Still, it’s hardly surprising that the parts of the film that have the greatest, most authentic emotional resonance are those that deal with Angus’ longing. Without artificial lamentation, but rather through small subtleties in the lines of dialogue and Dreyfuss’ endearing, precise acting, “Astronaut” makes it clear what the late fulfillment of this risky lifelong dream would mean to the protagonist.
“Without artificial lamentation, but rather through small subtleties in the lines of dialogue and Dreyfuss’ endearing, precise acting, “Astronaut” makes it clear what the late fulfillment of this risky lifelong dream would mean to the protagonist.”
Because of how calmly McLeod portrays Angus’s clinging to his last chance, free of forced scolding for those who warn Angus, and for the majority of the film only sporadically adding pathos in moments of success, “Astronaut” almost becomes one “Slice of Life” movie. This leads to Angus’ wish slowly but steadily being conveyed as worth fulfilling, no matter how daring it may sound. However, the fact that “Astronaut” increasingly changes in the second half into a film that is less about this wish and more about the fact that none of those responsible wants to listen to Angus’ warning about the planned rocket launch robs the tragicomedy of much of it their emotional potential. This “Now, someone, believe me!” plotline simply has a less energetic drive and is also carried out in a very conventional way.
Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) wants to go to space.
Incidentally, the genesis of the film was not that McLeod wanted to project her directing ambitions onto fictional characters – according to McLeod, she came up with the idea while visiting a retirement home to talk about how it feels when lifelong independent people become fragile, and how little they do most seniors can trust. This aspect runs like a common thread through “Astronaut”, but rarely goes beyond small “Well, you should have been expected to do more!” anecdotes, which are usually reeled off rather dutifully. Regardless of this, this cinematic drama, which is lit like a flat television film and therefore only sporadically creates a mood, always manages to make you smile and ensure that the characters, no matter how one-sided they are sketched, have a good ending. In addition to an amiable Dreyfuss as a widower who is no longer quite as spry but still smart and energetic, Richie Lawrence is particularly convincing (“Heroes Reborn”) as Angus’ bright grandson with a bit of a loose mouth. The rest of the cast, however, doesn’t stand out.
“This cinematic drama, which is lit like a flat television film and therefore only creates a mood sporadically, always manages to make you smile and ensure that you give the characters a good ending, no matter how one-sided they are sketched.”
Unfortunately, even Dreyfuss and Lawrence can no longer ground the cramped, sentimental ending. The reference made several times in USA marketing to Steven Spielberg’s early work is unfortunately not of a qualitative nature, but simply the beautiful parallel of seeing Dreyfuss reaching for the stars again after “The Uncanny Encounter of the Third Kind”.
Conclusion: Debut director Shelagh McLeod and Richard Dreyfuss talk about how wishes have no expiration date – and when “Astronaut” focuses on this aspect, it’s quite charming. Apart from that, this “tragi-comedy” unfortunately turns out to be generic.
“Astronaut” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from October 15, 2020.