Astronaut (3 stars)


Sweet and sincere, albeit slightly naff tale of an elderly widower dreaming big

'Keep up the good fight, cos what's the alternative?' Angus's doctor tells him half-heartedly during a check-up. But the 75-year-old, played by Richard Dreyfuss, has bigger plans than merely continuing to exist. The amateur astronomer has pinned his hopes on securing a seat on the first commercial space flight.

Veteran actress Shelagh McLeod's directorial debut, in which she briefly appears, is a genial Canadian drama about how with old age comes the pressure to step aside and wind down. Making her first film aged nearly 60, a story about bucking expectations in later life is clearly close to McLeod's heart; it's sincerely told and given lift by a terrific Dreyfuss, who is subtly heartrending and believably frail. The widowed Angus has a touching dynamic with devoted daughter Molly (Krista Bridges) and grandson Barney (Richie Lawrence) and a more difficult relationship with son-in-law Jim (Lyriq Bent), whose antagonism towards Angus masks his own troubles.

When he wins a chance for a spot on the aforementioned Ventura flight – a competition for which he has fraudulently applied, being over the upper age-limit – Angus brings not just enthusiasm but expertise to the table. His career as a civil engineer causes him to question the suitability of the runway surface. 'The last thing we need is some old man sowing doubt three days before lift-off,' Ventura boss Marcus (Colm Feore) fumes when the shrewd pensioner threatens to scupper his plan. In his rush to be the first to fire members of the public into space, the bullish billionaire may have cut corners.

Astronaut veers between thoughtful, melancholic drama and broader comedic swipes. The plot hijinks are crudely handled but they add a splash of excitement, as Angus has a brush with celebrity and races against the clock. The film is much better when reflecting on the perceived irrelevance of pensioners. It paints a recognisable picture of dismissive comments, heavy-hearted decisions and thwarted ambitions, and throws in some donkeys and death for good measure. If Astronaut can be a touch naff and never particularly surpasses that Sunday afternoon category of cinema, seeming from a bygone era itself, it remains a sweet story about daring to dream, whatever your age.

Available to watch on demand from Mon 27 Apr.