Astronaut, written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, is a new drama about keeping your hope while growing old. Don’t be fooled by the title, though, as this is not a film about the space program — rather, it is an understated character study and starring vehicle for the Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss.
On paper, this movie’s story is rather ridiculous. Who wants to watch a movie about an old man who wins a contest to be one of the first tourists in space? However, the story is much more interesting than it sounds, as it allows for an exploration of what it means to dream and how people, especially when they grow old, can long for something greater.
The main message of this film is that we need to treat our elders with kindness and humanity, which, while a common message, is one that is important nonetheless. Over the course of the movie, we see how the protagonist is treated poorly because of his age. Below the surface is something deeper about the capitalist nature of society and how we get rid of senior citizens when we deem them to be no longer of use, but the film settles for the more uplifting message of “seniors CAN still be useful”.
For the most part, the movie is a light and breezy watch. Since there isn’t anything particularly weighty or hard-hitting in the story or its themes, the film is quite easily palatable. For innocent and harmless distraction, you could do worse than this well-meaning character study. Although there will never be a doubt in your mind as to where the story is going or will end up, you go along for the ride because the movie is just mindless enough to work.
A big part of the reason why the film works is that the character development is strong. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonist in his situation, and while it would have been nice had his backstory been more fully-developed, his relationships with this daughter and grandson go a long way in making him feel likable.
Of course, the charisma of Dreyfuss also helps make the movie more compelling. This may not be the most complex role Dreyfuss has ever pulled off, but it is still a ton of fun to watch him in pretty much anything he does. He seems to be enjoying himself in the role (especially in a scene in which he gets to do the “old man shuffle”), and this enjoyment is infectious.
On a technical level, the film is strong because it doesn’t aim too high. If you come into this looking for an ambitious space-set movie, you will surely be disappointed. The film isn’t really about astronauts, so there aren’t any magnificent, CGI-heavy shots of outer space. Instead, the camera and production design are used (quite effectively) to bring you closer to the characters.
Astronaut isn’t an amazing movie, but as a well-meaning, family-friendly drama, it’s pretty impressive. An enjoyable performance from Richard Dreyfuss makes it worth the rental fee alone, so definitely check this one out if you get the chance.
Astronaut hits theaters and VOD on July 26.