The Astronaut Farmer

By Gus Bode

“The Astronaut Farmer”

Directed by Michael Polish Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Thieriot, Bruce Dern, J.K. Simmons, Bruce Willis Run time 102 minutes Rated PG

Rating 2 Gus Heads

Advertisement

Michael Polish’s “The Astronaut Farmer” is as much a fairy tale as it is a story of a dreamer with seemingly boundless hope and courage.

Like most fairy tales, the film is entertaining but requires a tremendous amount of suspended disbelief. Also like most fairy tales, “The Astronaut Farmer” is incredibly predictable. In fact, if you’ve watched the trailer closely, you already know how the film begins, progresses and ends.

Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton), a one-time aspiring astronaut, is the local nut in a small Texas town. It is Farmer’s dream to complete and pilot the rocket he has spent the majority of his life building. With most of his hometown calling him a crackpot, Farmer’s sole support stems from wife Audrey (Virginia Madsen) and his children. Farmer has mortgaged and re-mortgaged his family’s farm to build his rocket and is running out of time, as foreclosure looms ever closer.

FBI agents, who are convinced that the rocket in the barn on Farmer’s property is a WMD, then continually harass the would-be space pilot. The plot progresses predictably enough from there with a classic showdown between a dreamer and the proverbial powers that be.

Polish takes the righteously self-centered Farmer and transforms the otherwise preposterous schmuck into a hopeful dreamer. The government agents become villainous enemy of the American dream, and all rational thought is thrown completely out the window. In fact, if you think too hard about the plot holes and unbelievable nature of the film, you just might spontaneously combust or begin bleeding out of your ears.

All of the plot conventions of “The Astronaut Farmer” exist to pound the audience over the head with a message of courageous dreaming, but it’s all a little too ham-fisted and broadly stroked to evoke anything more than curious laughs and befuddled, furrowed brows.

It’s also curious that the Polish Brothers, who made their name with “Northfork,” also recently penned “The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking: An Insider’s Guide to Making Movies Outside of Hollywood” only to make a movie for film giant Warner Brothers. Either the Polish brothers are erudite masters of irony or talentless hacks out for a payday. Sadly, “The Astronaut Farmer” points directly toward the latter description.

Advertisement

Although the film’s general message is an admirable one, it’s hard to take “Farmer” seriously. Polish crafts his story with all the conventions of a modern fairy tale, but “The Astronaut Farmer” is mostly toothless, Bowdlerized swill without the allegory the Grimms certainly had in mind for the genre.

Advertisement