starring Richard Dreyfuss, Lyriq Bent, Krista Bridges, Colm Feore
written and directed by Shelagh McLeod
Fantasia Festival 2019 runs July 11-August 1 in Montreal, Quebec. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Walter Chaw The variety of oldsploitation entertained briefly by Steven Spielberg in the 1980s, Shelagh McLeod's Astronaut saves itself from terminal sap by allowing its hero, retired widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), a modicum of agency before the end. In that pursuit, the film becomes something like a rebuke of "Google expertise," a defense of experiential knowledge and Boomers, who have, let's face it, fallen a few dozen notches on the Q-meter of late. It seems billionaire Marcus (Colm Feore) has set up a lottery wherein one lucky, publicly voted-upon winner will get a chance to go into space on the first commercial vehicle making the trip. Angus is a couple of decades past the cut-off age and in nowhere near the physical shape to do it, but he enters anyway because it's always been a dream of his. His life on Earth has taken a turn of late: Long-suffering daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) has put him away in a home, while son-in-law Jim (Lyriq Bent) has secretly lost his job doing some shady stuff at the bank where he works. You could say there's something in here about the corruption of the banking industry, the difficulties of the working class, and the problem of Boomers threatening to become a sudden burden all at once on our palliative/hospice care system, too. There's also a rescued-donkey farm for some reason. Maybe it's a metaphor. Maybe it's nothing.
It leaves a sour taste in what is otherwise one of those Old Man & the Gun movies where tinkling piano music gently assuages any fear that the ends will be anything but sweet, whatever the bitterness of the means. Everyone rallies to Angus's side, especially after he overhears a conversation at Marcus's compound and, based on his decades of civil-engineering service, diagnoses--sight-unseen--a potentially deadly problem with the project's runway. Of course no one listens to Angus until they do, and then they reward him by letting Angus do something that should by all rights kill him instantly. How you hope Astronaut ends identifies not only how much you'll like the film, but also what you expect from films. Either they're made for saccharine comfort in endless circuits through basic cable, or they're art that is uncomfortable and immediate. In a film about shooting for the stars, there's a certain irony about the kind of film Astronaut is content to be. If it turns out to be Richard Dreyfuss's swan song, it's a quiet, safe way to go, far from the erratic verve of his Movie Brat genius. Not unlike the suicide chamber in Soylent Green, which, instead of showing pastoral scenes as its victims slip into eternity, could show this movie instead. Programme: Selection 2019