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‘Astronaut’ showcases Dreyfuss’ charm

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When I sat down to watch “Astronaut,” my hopes were not too high. I thought it would be predictable and pretty sappy, with Richard Dreyfuss being himself and maybe a tear-jerking moment or two.

I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed every minute. Dreyfuss was charming and a joy to watch.

A lonely widower, Angus Steward (Dreyfuss), has his long-extinguished dream reignited as he enters to win a competition sponsored by a billionaire entrepreneurial space company founder. The prize: a ticket on the world’s first commercial spaceflight. Fudging his birth date and medical records, and against all odds, he battles his daughter (Krista Bridges), family, ill health and time to win the ticket and take the trip of his dreams.

His grandson Barney Williams, (Richie Lawrence) is there to encourage and learn from Steward, and he plays the part in a charming fashion, but not too sentimental. Things don’t really work out as one would think. Dreyfuss knows something about the runway nobody wants to think about, and the story unfolds with courage and grace.

Side characters like Graham Green as Len, Art Hindle as Joe, Jennifer Phipps as Alice and Joan Gregson as Frannie lend touching moments and humorous interludes as structure for the film. They are fellow residents at an assisted living facility Dreyfuss moves into and quickly become part of the crew. Greene performs his usual consummate best.

“Astronaut” opens the 2020 Las Cruces International Film Festival (LCIFF) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at Cineport 10.  This is the United States Film Festival Premiere of the film which opens in London on March 20.  

Special guests Dreyfuss, Bridges, director Shelagh McLeod and producer Jessica Adams will attend LCIFF and engage in a Q&A following the screening. 

Dreyfuss will receive the Lifetime Achievement in Entertainment Award on Thursday, March 5, following a 7 p.m. screening of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Writer/director McLeod has said she wanted to be an astronaut when she was a child.  Although her career took a different path, “spending many months visiting my mother at a nursing home was a life-changing experience for me. Not only because I was about to lose my mom, but also because the journey from her being an independent woman to becoming a frail, frightened and overlooked old lady, was a heartbreaking one.

In the nursing home garden, there was an old man. He sat in his wheelchair, staring up at the sky for hours. One day I asked him, ‘What is it that you’re looking for up there...?’ ‘Another go,’ he said.’” Her conversation with him that day became the genesis for Astronaut. 

 “Astronaut is a deeply personal story, and one that I feel is timely and I hope will resonate with a universal audience,” McLeod said. “We are all on a one-way journey – and what if we could, at our bleakest moment, perhaps the end of our life, take the trip of our dreams and have another go?”

For tickets, details and updates, visit www.LasCrucesFilmFest.com or call 575-649-6149.

Elva K. Österreich may be reached at elva@lascrucesbulletin.com.