All Systems Are ‘Go’ For “The Astronaut Farmer”
For those who thought “Little Miss Sunshine” was a bit too edgy in its portrait of a dysfunctional family on a mission, “The Astronaut Farmer” (and its family-friendly PG rating) might be right up your alley. And truth be told, this little film about a nut job farmer building his own rocket is every bit as entertaining as that best picture nominee. Just don’t expect to see many favorable comparisons coming from critics who believe cynicism trumps “feel good” fare.
ut “The Astronaut Farmer” is a delight, though preposterous at times, (and not entirely original), but quietly and uniquely charming. Good performances abound. Billy Bob Thornton drops his typical crustiness in favor a lovable underdog persona as Charles Farmer, who after dropping out of the NASA program applies his aeronautical engineering skills to the task of fulfilling his lifelong dream of going into space. Call him crazy, but he builds a rocket in his own barn on his 350-acre Texas ranch. Most of the townsfolk like him, but the only people who truly believe in him are his devoted wife Audie (Virginia Madsen), and his kids (Max Thierot as the teenage son, and director Michael Polish’s twins as the adorable daughters).
One of the film’s minor conceits is the question it provokes about whether the government would ever allow an individual to launch a rocket into space. In “Farmer,” it’s clear not everyone is happy with the idea, with endless acronymic agencies sending their experts to stop the proceedings. While Charles’s dealings with the CIA, FBI, and the FAA come across as contrived and are played for cuteness, the bureaucratic myopia of trying to contain rather than encourage such an obviously intelligent renegade is altogether believable.
Writer-Directors Michael and Mark Polish have crafted an old-fashioned hero’s tale about the importance of chasing your dream, and include some nice surprises and an uncredited cameo that feels just right. Charles Farmer’s gamble is potentially risky and dangerous considering the financial burden of his obsession and the 10,000 gallons of rocket fuel he’ll need to launch his rocket.
But no less risky is Warner Bros.’ decision to take a chance on a small, relatively inexpensive movie that dares to demonstrate the lengths to which a father will go to leave a legacy and prove something to his family. Kudos to the studio for reaching for the stars on this one.
If “feel good” is a film objective worthy of ridicule, then call this reviewer a space cadet.
Rated PG (Profanity)