Despite its title this is not a mega-budget space adventure but the more intimate story of an elderly man who has always dreamed of journeying into space – and then, at the age of 75, sees the possibility dangling in front of him. It’s written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, a 59 year old actress turned film maker – and I make the ageist point there only because of the rarity of that particular combination – first time director/older/ woman.
Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss) is a recently widowed, retired civil engineer, now living with his daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) and son law Jim (Lyriq Bent). Jim isn’t too keen on having Angus there but his young son Barney (Richie Lawrence) loves having him around, as he shares his grandpa’s enthusiasm for star gazing through Angus’s prized telescope. And when billionaire Marcus Brown (Colm Feore) announces a competition to win a seat on the first ever commercial flight into space, Barney tries hard to persuade 75 year old Angus to enter, even though he’s ten years above the age limit. Which of course, lying about his age, Angus eventually does.
Ostensibly this is a sweet, feel good movie about an old man and his dream. But it has a tough message at its heart about the false and condescending assumptions made about the over seventies and their frailty of mind and body. There’s the doctor examining Angus, who automatically assumes he is now incapable of driving; Jim questioning whether Angus with his dicky heart should be allowed a glass of wine. And when Jim persuades Molly that her dad would be better off in a care home, there’s the kindly but bossy staff nurse, who treats her charges like naughty schoolchildren. Dinner, she tells the family when Angus movies in, is at six pm. “But he doesn’t get hungry till eight”, protests young Barney. “He will here” retorts the nurse. Through all these ageist slights, Angus says not a word. But Dreyfuss’s face speaks volumes.
Because he is a consummate screen actor and perfect casting, bringing as he does both dry humour and warmth to the role while making us share his belief in his dream. Particularly touching is Angus’s friendship with another care home inmate Len, played by leading Indigenous Canadian actor Graham Greene, who refuses to speak because, as Angus dryly remarks, “nobody listens”. Bent as the initially unpleasant son-in-law turns out to be a good sort after all, young Richie Lawrence is cute without being irritating and there’s a very likeable performance from Karen LeBlanc as the billionaire’s press officer, who takes a shine to Angus.
The outcome of the story depends heavily on the rather unlikely discovery by Angus of a critical technical problem to do with the space flight. But the drama of will he or won’t he be taken seriously is rooted in the fact that, even though he was an expert and highly respected engineer in his field, nobody now takes his warning seriously because of his age. It’s a plot device which turns the tension of the story away from simply “will Angus fulfil his dream of travelling into space?” to a more universal one. Will he get a chance to prove that being over seventy doesn’t mean that you have become useless, incapable and totally brain dead?
[box type=”info”] Due to the COVID-19 lockdown Astronaut is now being fast-tracked for a digital release on Monday 27th April on all major UK video-on-demand platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google and Rakuten[/box]