Astronaut

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Astronaut
"Astronaut is a charming fable given life by Dreyfuss' spirited performance." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

As a child, did you look up at the stars and dream of travelling into space? It's a common ambition, one that has young Barney (Richie Lawrence) firmly in its grip. What his parents don't realise is that it's equally important to his grandfather Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), who, in his eighties, is still unwilling to let it go. They're in the process of selling his house and getting him settled in a nursing home where they expect him to live out the rest of his days. He's conspiring the Barney to lie about his age so he can enter a competition that might give him a shot at the stars.

A heartfelt plea to remember the humanity of older people whose remaining hopes and ambitions are too often brushed aside, Astronaut is a charming fable given life by Dreyfuss' spirited performance. Although at times it threatens to become too sentimental, his dry delivery and the fierceness he's still capable of communicating when necessary keep it grounded. He also has fantastic chemistry with young Lawrence, whose energy helps to drive the narrative forward.

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There's a great deal here about ageing and the fears that many people have for their parents as they become dependants rather than protectors. Angus' daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) is trying to manage her own grief at the awareness that she'll lose him one day soon by focusing on practicalities, driving herself to exhaustion in the process. Her husband Jim (Lyriq Bent) is tor between wanting to support her and identifying with the old man, whilst also contending with work-related problems that bring his own role as provider into question and prompt him to reconsider the comfortable social roles into which other people find themselves pushed. The dynamics of the nursing home environment are well realised and there's an impressive supporting performance by Graham Greene as a man who has lost his ability to communicate yet who, despite people's assumption, seems perfectly sharp underneath.

Older viewers will relate to the way that Angus experiences his knowledge and expertise (as an engineer) being sidelined, and scenes in which e's trying to emphasise the vital importance of listening to scientific evidence are reminiscent of Jaws. Also potently expressed is his frustration at the increasing physical limitations that restrict his ability to assert himself. Meanwhile, the real reason why many people distrust the mental capacity of older people is reflected in conversations about his wife, who died of Alzheimer's disease and, shortly before her passing, bought a donkey sanctuary which he is determined to preserve in her name, despite Molly's frustration.

If reading this makes you wary of being short changed because it's all about ageing and family when you were hoping for some space related action, never fear - the film delivers on that too, though not quite in the way you might expect. It's impressively realised on a limited budget, first time feature director Shelagh McLeod demonstrating that she can make a little go a long way. This is a film that really will appeal to viewers of all ages, and that doesn't lose sight of the dream.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2019
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A lonely widower's dream of going into space is reignited by a nationwide contest.


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