Astronaut tells the story of Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), a lonely widower who feels like his life seems over when he moves into a retirement home. Feeling worthless and alone, Angus’s enthusiasm is reignited when a competition is announced for a seat on the first commercial flight to space. Despite the fact that he’s well beyond the contest’s age range, Angus enters the competition and must battle against prejudice, his own failing health and time to win the ticket and take the trip of his dreams.
Written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, Astronaut is one of the more touching and endearing films of the year. Based on an interaction she had with an elderly man in a nursing home several years ago, the film is a true celebration of life and speaks to the value of everyone, regardless of age. Though a cast with the talents of Colm Feore and Graham Greene is already stellar, it’s Richard Dreyfuss who shines brightest, bringing humanity and vibrancy to a man who wants to bring his dream to life despite his own expiring clock. Though he’s chosen to work less in recent years, Dreyfuss’ performance as Angus continues to serve as a reminder of his ability to instill a mixture of joy and empathy into his characters.
Time features heavily in McLeod’s film, as Angus fights for his dreams against a body that has begun to fail him. Clasping his pocket watch with glee, Angus is a character who appears to believe that he has time in the palm of his hands. Despite the fact that he struggles to walk great distances and his heart is weak, he truly believes that time is on his side. His youthful spirit yearns for one more adventure and he knows he has more to offer the world.
However, as the world around him seems to have passed him by, Angus feels silenced. Unheard by his daughter, the space program representatives and the well-meaning (but at times oblivious) nursing home staff, Angus becomes viewed as the ‘crazy old man’. He is loved… but he is not listened to. As such, the film also becomes a love letter to the elderly by emphasizing the life and wisdom they still have to offer. Throughout Angus’ journey, the other residents of the nursing facility find a new vitality and voice. Although quietly unheard by others, Angus becomes an example to his elderly friends—not to mention his own family—that they still have time to live lives that matter.
Though Astronaut will likely not be a film that you hear much about in the latest box office reports about superheroes and CGI animated fare, it is well worth looking for in your local cineplex. McLeod’s charming script and endearing cast help elevate Astronaut from the screen into the stars of our hearts.
For audio of our interview with writer/director Shelagh McLeod, click here.
Astronaut begins its journey in theatres and VOD on July 26th, 2019