The Astronaut Farmer
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"If we don't have our dreams, we have nothing" Charles Farmer
How do you take an inherently interesting story about a former pilot and astronaut drop out, who launches himself into orbit, and make that story slow, dull, and corny? The Polish brothers (director, writers) achieve that state possibly because the modest $13 million budget is still much more than they ever had and their approach is too reverential to the hero, who by any standards pursues a quixotic goal of launching himself at the risk of jettisoning his family and close friends.
Charles Farmer (Billie Bob Thornton) is determined to achieve his goal in the face of losing his too well ordered and clean farm and his loving, dutiful, and way too accepting wife, Audrey (Virginia Madsen). Thornton, underplaying with that fetching drawl and highly-developed outsider persona, does a credible job of dreaming his impossible dream without appearing unstable or psychotic. Madsen, while always attractive, has such a clich?d part as the long-suffering mate that the character could appear to be even more unrealistic than her husband.
The two young daughters mug for the camera or make too much happy to be credible. Only two characters ring true all the time: Farmer's son, Shephard (Max Thierot), who is cool as a teen mission controller; and an uncredited Bruce Willis, who plays an ex-astronaut friend of Farmer trying to talk him out of a potentially disastrous launch. Everyone else is a caricature, as the film itself is almost a parody of the American dream:It relies on the American tradition of individualism at the expense of those closest to the dreamer. That's American tragedy.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com