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Astronaut

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Astronaut Movie Poster Image
Pro-STEM empowerment tale has diverse characters.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 97 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

The main character is a civil engineer who frequently talks about the safety of roads when it comes to the soil, limestone, and ice composition. Encourages interest in STEM fields/topics.

Positive Messages

You're never too old to pursue your dreams, and if you have the support of family and friends, you're even more likely to achieve them. Perseverance is a clear theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Diversity within supporting cast in terms of race, ability, sexual identity. Several examples of characters who value/respect the elderly: Barney adores and loves to spend time with his grandfather, Angus befriends an aged stroke victim who can't speak well, and an executive hears and respects Angus' wish to go into space -- even when the easy thing would be to tell him he's too old. Angus is determined to ensure the safety of the space launch program. All of that said, the characters do collectively tell a lie, for which there's no real negative consequence.

Violence & Scariness

Arguments. Elderly characters are seen struggling with physical issues, including a couple of gentle deaths.

Sexy Stuff
Language

A child calls his schoolwork "stupid."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters have wine and beer in the evening. Angus hits the bottle while looking at the stars, which seems to provoke his heart condition. When an elderly person is struggling to speak, someone asks whether he's been drinking (he hasn't).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Astronaut is an uplifting family drama starring Richard Dreyfuss that subtly addresses how society marginalizes the elderly. It's not about "bucket lists" but rather the drive to satisfy a lifelong passion or quest at any age. The film stands out for its realistic diversity in terms of race, ability, and sexual identity, as well as its pro-STEM themes. Dreyfuss' character and his grandson share a wonderful relationship, making it a great pick for grandparents to watch with their grandkids. Iffy content is limited to a couple instances of drinking, some arguing, and a couple of tense/sad scenes involving health conditions and gentle deaths in a nursing home.

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What's the story?

At age 75, retired civil engineer Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss) has long given up on his lifelong dream of being an ASTRONAUT. But when an aerospace company announces a competition to give away a seat on the first civilian trip into space, Angus' thirst for space is reignited. With the reluctant support of his family, Angus attempts to fight preconceived notions about his age and health to win the seat and make his wish come true.

Is it any good?

It would be easy to dismiss Astronaut as a sweet, inconsequential family drama, but it has the potential to positively affect how kids treat the elderly. The film has a purpose: to remind viewers that an older person may have creaks and crinkles but isn't any different on the inside -- they still have thoughts and dreams, hurts and happiness, and valuable knowledge to contribute. Writer-director Shelagh McLeod doesn't come at her audience with a film screaming about ageism; rather, she subtly weaves in her point while avoiding all clichés. 

Let's also recognize the achievement of giving a civil engineer his due: Angus brings to light all that goes into making roads and bridges safe, something many people take for granted. That said, while Angus' passion for rocks and soil gets a lot of attention, the issues that affect the supporting characters -- agoraphobia, a legal battle, a neglected teaching degree, and a donkey sanctuary -- are touched upon but not well explored. It's similar to how we experience others' drama peripherally in our own lives: We care, we want to be involved, but our attention tends to be on our own battles. While that's clearly McLeod's style, the lack of fuller explanation may sometimes leave viewers confused. On the other hand, McLeod's slice-of-life approach unveils a wide swath of diversity without fanfare or comment. As we know, art reflects life, and then life reflects art. In this case, a small film represents a small step for man, woman, the aged, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, and people of color; enough steps, and -- before you know it -- we can hopefully look back at the leap in progress that was made for humanity. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about who Astronaut is intended to appeal to. Do you think the target audience is kids? Older adults? Families? Why and how can you tell?

  • Why do you think movies about being old are relatively rare? How does this one compare to others you've seen?

  • How does Angus' perseverance help him achieve his dream? Could he have done it without the support of his family and friends?

  • The movie's characters have some issues with integrity. Do you think Angus should have lied? Similarly, do you think Jim should have executed an illegal trade? Does it matter if "everyone else" is doing it? What should you do if your boss or a leader instructs you to do something you know is wrong?

  • What does Angus' statement "A life well lived is long enough" mean? Do you agree?

Movie details

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