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  Astronaut Starry Eyed Surprise
Year: 2019
Director: Shelagh McLeod
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Lyriq Bent, Krista Bridges, Colm Feore, Richie Lawrence, Art Hindle, Graham Greene, Judy Marshak, Jennifer Phipps, Joan Gregson, Karen LeBlanc, Paulino Nunes, Mimi Kuzyk, Mike Taylor, Colin Mochrie, Jeff Douglas, Rhona Shekter
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss) is an elderly, retired engineer who specialised in building roads, but now his wife has passed away he feels as if it is the end of the road for him. He has been forced to move in with his daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) which his son-in-law Jim (Lyriq Bent) is none too pleased about, though his grandson Barney (Richie Lawrence) is delighted, since they get along very well. Looking for something to occupy his time, Angus dusts off his old telescope and sets about surveying the night sky, for there is a comet overhead that he wants a closer look at, but this rekindles his interest in astronomy that draws him to a new competition on the subject of space...

Although he had supposedly retired, Richard Dreyfuss was coaxed back to the big screen for a few roles in his old age, including this one where he got to play the lead, not bad going for a star of his vintage in a film of the twenty-first century. It was an obviously low budget affair, a million miles away from the other movie where he tried to go into space, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind which had had millions upon millions of dollars thrown at it, which even on nineteen-seventies terms was a huge amount. This, however, looked reluctant to even allow its protagonist to get up into space at all, and you suspected that was down to the meagre budget for visual effects.

Nevertheless, this did generate a degree of suspense since you were not wholly convinced Angus would fulfil his dreams, and after a while it did not appear to be that kind of story at all, not to give away too much, of course. The competition is open to anyone aged eighteen to sixty-five, which rules out our man, but essentially opens up the possibility of a trip into space for the winner on the first commercial flight to go into orbit, something Angus has been longing for ever since childhood, and now his wife has died he needs to occupy his mind somehow. Naturally, he could never afford to buy a ticket, so after a while, with encouragement from Barney, applies under false personal details.

Meanwhile his position in the family home has become more fraught, and he is forced to move yet again, into a retirement home this time. This was thanks to writer and director Shelagh McLeod revealing by this point that her tale was not so much one of never giving up on your dreams no matter how old you were, it was not as corny as that, and the genuine concern about the elderly and the state of their mental health was brought to the fore. Angus makes friends at the home, but it is telling his best relationship there is with the Graham Greene character who seems to have suffered a stroke and is unable to speak or move very well; his lack of mobility and communication is a handy metaphor for the plight of the aged who find themselves ignored or unconsciously belittled once their health breaks down.

Although the low budget did show, and this could really have done with a little more cash thrown its way, the sincerity of its wishes for the best for us once we reach our twilight years was surprisingly disarming, and thanks to Dreyfuss in a performance of frustrated dignity, avoided being oversweet or schmaltzy. There are more lessons to be drawn, as Angus's career in road engineering allows him to realise things at this space flight may not be as peachy as they might want to believe, fair enough this was as much wish fulfilment for the target audience of the older viewer as the idea that someone of the lead's age would be considered to be sent into space with a heart condition that we see him suffering spells of illness thanks to. But despite those reservations, it had a faith in the worth of those of us who society throws on the scrapheap by necessity more than callousness, and if it was a small scale movie whose ambitions it could not quite achieve, its heart was in the right place throughout. Music by Virginia Kilbertus.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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