The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Astronaut Farmer

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Jacqueline Monahan

The Astronaut Farmer

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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If you see an astronaut on a horse in the desert, do you 1: think it’s a mirage; 2: run like hell, or 3: look for the rocket that’s sure to be nearby? In the case of the Astronaut Farmer, you’d have to look no further than his barn.

Charlie Farmer’s rocket resembles a ballistic missile. It is not a typical object you’d find on a farm, but Farmer is not a typical guy. Attracting the unwanted and undivided attention of several government agencies, as well as the media, he becomes the town’s celebrity - part hero, part crackpot, and is treated alternately with awe and condescension by his friends and neighbors. Even though he’s alerted the proper authorities of his intentions, the Feds swoop into Story, TX with dire predictions and threats, sternly lecturing about restrictive security issues in their requisite aviator sunglasses, dark suits and bright white shirts.

Quitting his astronaut training after his father’s suicide, Farmer never got space lust out of his system. He’s a rancher, literally grounded on earth by catastrophic debt; quite a letdown for a man whose head is continually in the stars. Farmer’s history includes a degree in aerospace engineering, and a stint as an Air Force pilot, but he’s never made it past the earth’s orbit and that eats away at him, becoming an obsession stronger than any common sense. When you are threatened with hunger and homelessness, the burning desire of your existence should be where to find rocket fuel.

Billy Bob Thornton, as Charlie Farmer, makes us want to be on his side, while simultaneously questioning his every move. The viewer becomes part cheerleader, part armchair counselor to this wannabe space explorer. We alternate wanting to pat him on the back with wanting to knock him upside his helmeted head. Because Thornton plays the role as an absolute straight man, with no inclination toward anything but his space venture, we take him seriously, all the while keeping an eye on Farmer’s financial situation. Someone has to.

Virginia Madsen, as Farmer’s wife, Audie, stands by her man despite having to share him with a stainless steel “other woman”. Sacrifice becomes her. The ability to gaze admiringly at her husband while their financial future is in ruins is not something I’d want to emulate, but Madsen does a fine job injecting at least a hint of real life into the Farmer family. Someone has to. There is a small cameo appearance by Bruce Dern as farmer’s father-in-law. He’s an admiring advocate, always good for an injection of “don’t give up” goodwill.

The three Farmer children are his flight team, and not the least bit embarrassed by their father, even Shepard, the teenage son. Get the feeling that we’ve departed earth yet? Put that aside, and believe, or you’re just like the small-minded town, the suspicious government and the speculative media. In fact, getting the viewer not to identify with these entities is the principal way the film gets us to join Team Farmer, no matter how far-fetched the premise.

After a surprising twist in the family’s financial situation, things progress at atomic speed to an idyllic Kodak moment. Begin to count the implausible and improbable occurrences that start to happen. You’ll have more fun if you just sit back and let yourself be spoon fed every incredible circumstance and development. Consequences are handily ignored.

As a credible story, the Polish Brothers’ latest effort doesn’t quite achieve lift off, but as a rural fairytale about perseverance and prevailing in the face of adversity, doubt and incredible setbacks, it can be uplifting. I thought the film was ambitious in presenting its premise and then sticking to it in a non-wavering, unapologetic tribute to the classic David and Goliath scenario. It provides an entertaining look at an ultimate gambler, and because it’s his risk, not ours, we can live vicariously through his sweet foolishness and fierce determination.

The likeable, well-meaning characters are offset by narrow-minded bureaucrats and others who abide by the laws of physics. The nerve! Don’t come around here with your foreclosures, your restrictions, your warnings and man-made divisions. Don’t remind us about the cost and intricacies associated with space travel; the million dollar price tags and scores of trained experts, each specializing in a narrow field of expertise.

Charlie Farmer’s got a rocket in his barn, and like Mickey and Judy before him, he’s going to put on a show! I think you will be persuaded to attend.