The importance of chasing one’s dreams is the lynchpin of The Astronaut Farmer, but somewhere along the way, Mark and Michael Polish seem to have forgotten that sometimes it’s also vital to analyze and question one’s aspirations. Had they done this with regard to their latest protagonist, they might have realized that Texas farmer Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton), who dreams of visiting space in the homemade rocket sitting in his barn, is an abhorrent cretin, the type of smug scumbag who jeopardizes his own life as well as the safety and welfare of his family to pursue wholly selfish goals in the most reckless way possible. Granted, the Polish brothers mean for their story to resemble a children’s novel, with believability taking a backseat to slightly whimsical fantasy. Their approach, though marked by a comfy, down-home familiarity with the rural South, is too realistic to overshadow the boundless arrogance of their protagonist, a man whose spaceship hobby—motivated by his regret over having never traveled to the cosmos as a young Air Force pilot—leads to, among other things, immense debt, a looming foreclosure on the family home, and the potential deaths of his loved ones. The Astronaut Farmer nonetheless asks us to root for this underdog against a trio of big meanies: the FAA, the F.B.I. (whose cellphone ringtones are Darth Vader’s theme song), and the Patriot Act, the last of which somehow imposes new, unfair restrictions on our freedom to build space shuttles in our backyard. Farmer’s actions are never the least bit justified, his endless talk about dreams just a specious cloak used to hide the fact that his plan is pointless and irresponsible, and that he’s a sanctimonious gasbag who cares more for himself than for anyone else. As befitting a fairy tale, Farmer’s wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids stick by him and, after a near-fatal launch that quells his enthusiasm, convince him to go for it, their confidence in his triumph less a product of sanity than of the Polish brothers’ desire for a happy ending. And admittedly, by film’s conclusion it’s hard not to root for his success, if only so Earth can be rid of one more lousy husband and parent.
- Michael Polish
- Mark Polish, Michael Polish
- Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Thieriot, Jasper Polish, Logan Polish, Bruce Dern, Mark Polish, Jon Gries, Tim Blake Nelson, Sal Lopez, J.K. Simmons, Bruce Willis
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