Astronaut

Angus is recently widowed and his joints are starting to creak. In the opening scene, he is leaving a check up where his doctor says he’s got to give up driving. Does he have anyone to look after him? Yes, he’s staying with his daughter. This isn’t so great news for his son-in-law who’s trying to hide the fact that he’s just lost his job in finance or something, but the moppet-like grandson is delighted.

The film is roughly in 3 acts. In the first act, Angus is despatched to a nursing home where they have communal singing, regulated meal times and one tv room where the inmates fight over the remote – it looks like hell on Earth. In the second act, Angus lies about his age to enter a lottery set up by a hi-tech millionaire (henceforth known as HTM) for the first passenger flight in space. We’ll leave the third act out for now to avoid plot spoilers.

To be honest, its all fairly pedestrian stuff. There’s a scene of the nursing home inmates dancing along with the moppet to disco music which I guess is supposed to be life-affirming but comes across as being highly implausible. The film is roughly on the right side of any argument – pensioners are people too, and profits shouldn’t jeopardize safety – but it lacks the passion to really fight for anything.

I guess it would work quite well as a Sunday afternoon tv film – the sort of thing that you wouldn’t turn off, as trying to find the remote would be too much trouble. Richard Dreyfuss is charming as ever, and the multi-racial family has enough domestic problems to make it believable, if irritatingly bland. And director Shelagh McLeod’s default position is to try to keep our attention through cloying sentimentality.

But there is a big problem, and I’m going to have to tip-toe around it a bit, because its one of the film’s central plot lines. For reasons of Plot, Angus finds himself in a position to challenge the HTM’s obsession with profit and to talk him round to, like, not needlessly killing too many people. Which he does by walking into HTM’s office, gaining access by using the moppet to sweet talk the security guards to let him in.

Because if there’s anything we’ve learned about HTMs, it is that (1) they’ll abandon an expensive project on the whim of an old man, (2) they operate an open door policy in their office where anyone can just barge in, and (3) in the end they’re just lovable sentimental beings who’s only wish is to respect the wishes of their recently departed father.

Make no mistake, this may come over as sentimental fluff, but its an attempt to rehabilitate the Egon Musks and Jeff Bezoses of this world in order to make us feel anything for them but disgust and contempt. And we can’t have that happening, can we?

Astronaut never makes us think too hard, and this is its strength and its weakness. We can use it to reassure us in These Dark Days, but as soon as we start to think about what its trying to say, your immediate response is What is this Bullshit? People are judged purely on their ability to procreate, and we should be thankful for what the Great and the Good bestow on us from on high.

I realise that I probably missed the best bit. I saw this at a German press screening, where the press kit proudly told us that the voice of Richard Dreyfuss was provided by Kaspar Eichel. A Richard Dreyfuss film where we don’t even get to hear Richard Dreyfuss? Now what’s the point of that?

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