Sending the unlikeliest of people into space–from Jason Voorhees to Homer Simpson–has always been a crowd-pleasing move. So it should come as no surprise that Shelagh McLeod finds the same results in her feature directorial debut Astronaut, which sends seventy-one year old Richard Dreyfuss into the heavens, in perhaps the Oscar winner’s best performance in years.
Dreyfuss plays Angus, an aging stargazer who is moved into retirement centre, and seeks freedom by applying for a chance to be among the first on board the first chartered flight into space, courtesy of a wealthy entrepreneuer played by Colm Feore (who, despite the similar backdrop, shares nary a single quirk or characteristic with Elon Musk, and strikes one as more human than Jeff Bezos).
Astronaut strives to realize its themes through frequent reminders of Angus’ advanced age and the ordeals of his fellow retirement home residents. Writer/director McLeod creates a sense of imprisonment in the retirement home, and while this effect is not always successful, it provides enough of a rationale for Angus to try an escape.
Dreyfuss carries the film well with strong supporting performances around him; though the characters are thinly written, and quite a few are given relatively little backstory. Graham Greene, for example, plays an unintelligible, wheelchair-bound resident who becomes Angus’ closest friend, despite learning little about him or his condition. When characterization does occur, it’s expressed in the usual exposition that tends to permeate much of Canadian cinema.
Astronaut never quite soars due to its thin writing, but Richard Dreyfuss’ pleasant performance provides the film with enough emotional weight to keep it in flight.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile