Sunday, March 04, 2007

From Bridge to Terabithia to The Astronaut Farmer : A Movie Review

Honest! I really didn't set out to be a movie reviewer! I don't see many movies at all, and as I think back on the ones I have seen in the past few years, they were movies marketed largely for children.

Among the interesting comments to my review of the movie version of Bridge to Terabithia was the comment by "anonymous 2:03 p.m.," who objected to the marketing of Bridge as a Narnia-style battle movie. Anonymous then added

I was appalled at how they marketed this movie. The following day we went to see The Astronaut Farmer, a flick they were saying was “family”. I was hesitant, but from the reviews I read there weren’t any hidden agendas. I loved it and now I’m spreading the word as far as I can. This is a movie that everyone's kid should see– as well as his or her mother and father. It will leave you smiling and optimistic about the world we live in. Families shouldn't have to be manipulated to see family movies.

So, when it proved too cool for the zoo today, I took my seven-year-old grandson to see The Astronaut Farmer. The movie itself is a bit of a paradox: it has a hard-to-swallow plot about a rancher and NASA astronaut dropout (Charlie Farmer) who obsessively pursues his mission to build his own spacecraft and orbit the earth. Charlie's family consists of his dewy-eyed, adoring, and long-suffering wife, two cute mop-headed little girls, and a worshipful fifteen-year-old son, all of whom willingly support his pursuit of the vision, even when they learn that their ranch is about to be foreclosed because of the money Charlie borrowed to fuel his dream. The cast of characters includes the various locals who wish they could be supportive if the whole thing weren't so goofy, his old buddy and fellow astronaut (played by Bruce Willis) who tells him he's just plain crazy, and a bunch of FBI clones and FAA bureaucrats who muddle about trying to find legal obstacles to his mission. The whole plot and characters are familiarly formulaic: self-directed dreamer battles short-sighted authority figures and nimbobish naysayers until his vision is gloriously realized.

Somehow though, Billy Bob Thornton as Farmer carries it off. His on-the-edge acting is the tour de force which keeps the theme afloat, just as the conveniently deus ex machina death of Charlie's father-in-law (played by Bruce Dern), whose estate pays off his debt and funds the successful mission, props up the second half of the plot.

Despite all these caveats about the movie, Anonymous is right. It is good to see a movie that, however sappy, makes us feel empowered along with the main character. Charlie Farmer, in his struggle with the the FBI, NASA, and the local bank, is the David to their Goliath, and his homemade rocket is the means to slingshot himself into self-realization. In a cute touch during the final credits, Jay Leno welcomes Charlie Farmer, now a celebrity, to his famous couch for a Tonight Show interview, the very emblem of success in our media-crazed world.

In many ways this is an old-fashioned movie, where the dream-driven hero or heroine keeps on dancing, or singing, or swinging the bat, or going to Washington, or whatever, until the stodgy old powers-that-be recognize the virtue of his or her vision. It's not a bad thing to see that optimism revived on the big screen again. As my grandson said on the way out, "It means that if you have a dream to do a job, just stick to it." A kid could learn worse things at the cineplex!

[Note: this movie has some language that may offend some viewers.]



  • I love your movie reviews as well as your book reviews. Don't be shy about sharing your views on films.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:04 PM  

  • I wish you had put a spoiler warning at the beginning of this review. Revealing the exact nature of the plot twist that provides the requisite happy ending was perhaps not strictly necessary in an otherwise fine review.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 AM  

  • Dear Anonymous 1:50 a.m.,
    Spoiling the ending? But it is a formulaic script, and only a child who had never seen a movie or tv show (or heard THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD) would be surprised that the whole thing would finally fly. The surprise was that we believed that one person could buy 50000 gallons of rocket fuel, fly a spacecraft and orbit the earth nine times (fixing his communication system en route) and re-enter close enough to home to be picked up in the battered family station wagon!
    But thanks for the input. I feel that I'm writing for adults who take kids to the movies, but I will be careful not give too much away!
    Thanks for your comment!

    By Blogger GTC, at 8:23 AM  

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