The Astronaut Farmer
2006 – Michael Polish
Rated PG: 104 minutes
Vault Rating: 7
Here’s a good enough family adventure to chuck in the grinder when you and the kids have had one too many “Sponge Bob” reruns.
OK, it is easy to have too much of “Sponge Bob.” And today’s feature, “The Astronaut Farmer,” is a better movie than all that.
The story is a straightforward one about never giving up on one’s dreams. It features Billy Bob Thornton as Charles Farmer, who is a former rocket scientist turned rancher who has been constructing a space launch vehicle in his barn.
Now, if you were constructing a rocket ship in your barn, you might imagine all the possible complications. First, everyone — including your family — would think you were off your gourd. Second, you’d have to raise an extra-terrestrial amount of money. Third, wouldn’t the F.B.I. be a might curious about an old rancher who was trying to acquire 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel?
These complications and more arise and are fully explained in today’s feature; the exception being that Mr. Farmer’s family is unwaveringly in support of the old man’s dream. Hell, even his 15-year-old son is prepping to be his flight coordinator.
Now let us step away from the movie to discuss its authors. Mark and Michael Polish know midwestern landscapes and are fond of juxtaposing unusual images onto their familiar canvass.
This was never more obvious than in some of the wondrously strange images in their fascinating 2003 effort, “Northfork.” In that film, a very unusual God was writing the script of the movie as it was transpiring while government agents were trying to get townsfolk to relocate so a dam could be built that would transform their town into a recreational paradise.
In 1999, they brought us “Twin Falls Idaho,” an examination of terminal conjoined twins who went to the city to live it up on what likely would be their last birthday together.
You see how strange these guys are. By comparison, “Astronaut Farmer” is tame. Oh, it does feature the odd Polish sense of humor. They even drag the old saw about the bank foreclosing on the farm into the mix. It’s a reasonable cliche. After all, $600,000 of debt is just a drop in the bucket when you’re trying to pay for a ride into the stratosphere.
Still, in a conventional sense, “A.F.” does deliver those moments where the audience is really pulling for the protagonist. It is moments like these that make these kinds of movies tick and this film moves along like clockwork. The Polish brothers for once are painting within the lines … even if the story itself is about a man who refuses to do likewise.