Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Blake Nelson. Family Adventure. Written by Mark Polish & Michael Polish. Directed by Michael Polish.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Dismissed from NASAs space program, former astronaut-in-training Charles Farmer (BILLY BOB THORNTON) pursues his lifelong dream by building his own rocket. On the eve of his launch, Farmer must battle foreclosure on his ranch and a small-town community of disbelievers, while simultaneously drawing heavy scrutiny and surveillance from the FBI, CIA, FAA and the U.S. military, all of which see him as a potential risk to civilian safety and will take the necessary steps to shut down his operation. But he remains determined to reach his goal and instill in his children the courage to pursue their own dreams, no matter the odds.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Three times a year I pretend Im critic Addison DeWitt, the George Saunders character in All About Eve. Armed with barbed wire and poison pens, DeWitt didnt review, he attacked. But as I said, I only allow myself to go there three times a year. But its early in the year and I have already given a keyboard lashing to the equally unsatisfying Diane Keaton comedy Because I Said So, the producers of Astronaut Farmer may rest easy. Well, easier.
First off, I will congratulate the cast and those who cast them for their sincere efforts. The actors are perfectly matched to their characters and they brought strength, warmth and believability to a project that deserved less. The story, on the other hand, is about the silliest I can remember seeing. Perhaps the writer should be congratulated for seeking a fresh subject, but as I sat there viewing an implausible plot, headed by the most unlikable lead character since Bad Santa, I began to contemplate a recurring nightmare maybe all the best films have been made.
The theme is an admirable one, to dream the impossible dream. Charlie Farmer has such a dream. But this guy isnt exactly Martin Luther King. Dr. Kings dream would affect an entire nation, even the world, while Charlie Farmers aspiration stays a little closer to home. He wants to fly in space. And hes willing to do anything to make that dream come true. Again, that sounds like a man of character. But hes not. He has gone into debt, owing the local small-town bank over $600,000. When the friendly banker is put on the spot and refuses to extend the loan, in Farmers eyes his banker friend has betrayed him. Its the banks fault. So angry is he that Farmer throws a brink through the bank window, and then gives a disingenuous apology when forced to by the good-ol'-boy judge.
Farmers wife goes ballistic when her debit card is denied at the store and the family has to leave without any food. Shes upset that Charlie hasnt provided for her and their three children. He gets mad at her, then proclaims his love, but never attempts to resolve their financial woes. You see, Charlies vision is tunneled. Hes not thinking about family needs or his obligations. Hes thinking of his goal.
Its understandable that the government would object to a private citizen launching a missile. In this era of terrorism, it would be difficult for officials to allow one person to blast off with a weapon-capable projectory, while refusing another citizen the same right. But again, it is they who are the bad guys in Charlies mind, because they are standing in the way of his flight of fancy.
Those with a love/hate relationship with our government and/or a rebellion to conformity may look upon Charlies determination as a pioneer-like philosophy, a spirit that made America great. But this isnt a hero. This is a man who denies the cost of his actions. And the production is obviously manned by anti-establishment-minded artists. Its sly put-downs toward the government and conservative/religious folks (the pastor and several church-goers are portrayed as hypocritical) also seem of a rebellious nature. The Patriot Act is mocked and government officials are all portrayed as boorish buffoons.
Perhaps this critique sounds harsh but believe me, I was easy on the implausible situations, areas that will most likely be ridiculed by other members of my profession. Its well made, but deceptive. Charlie threatens the existence of his family and unnecessarily endangers his life in order to satisfy his selfish desires. Whats even more stupefying is the fact that he has a loving wife, three terrific kids, a beautiful farm and a good relationship with the community. Charlie already has the dream.
Video alternatives concerning dedicated parents with dreams: Friendly Persuasion. Charming Gary Cooper film about a Quaker family standing up for its religious beliefs while the country faces the Civil War conflict.
I Remember Mama. Yeah, I know its old. But I saw it again not long ago and it holds up. Irene Dunne stars in this gentle story of a Norwegian immigrant familys struggles while living in San Francisco at the turn of the century.
Its a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart is given a chance to see how life would have turned out for friends and loved ones if he had never been born.
Spencers Mountain. Henry Fonda and Maureen OHara star as parents struggling to send their son to college.
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. Edward G. Robinson (outstanding), Margaret O'Brien. Charming look at rural life during the beginning of WWII. Contains a respect for Christianity, life, and the price we pay for freedom.
Penny Serenade. Unable to have children, a young couple (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne) adopts a baby. This romantic drama shows a couple dealing with a loss and how their marriage survives the tragedy. Moving performances, especially from Grant, in one of his few dramatic roles.