Billy Bob Thornton is one of the acting world’s greatest mysteries. Is he good? Is he terrible? I don’t have the definitive answer to this question plaguing civilization, but I do have the experience from today’s film, The Astronaut Farmer, to go off, and if we’re going off just this film, I think we can safely take the former option out of the question. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this film, and after experiencing it for myself I feel I can, with some authority, tell the people who said those nice things about this film absolutely bonkers. I didn’t care for this at all, and I really expected more from the directors of Northfork.
The title says it all. I’m not even going to explain it in detail. A guy named Charles Farmer, a former astronaut in training who was forced to give up on his dream early on in life. Now that he has a wife and kids, he decides kind of spur of the moment to live out his dream of being an astronaut by building a rocket in his barn (!!!). Media coverage goes crazy over this nutty attempt at touching the stars, and shows of support flood in from all over. But it won’t be easy, building his very own rocket (!!!!!). Can he make his dream a reality with sheer fore of will? Does he have the knowledge, the moxy, and the determination?
Sounds like a comedy, right? Well, NO! This is a serious damn drama! No snickering from the back of the classroom! The Polish brothers, famous for their odd addition of surrealism to drama, have taken the same approach to this one, only the surrealism is left to languish while Thornton’s horrible blandness sets in, creating a rather boring pseudo-comedy. It tries to be bizarre, it tries to be quirky, but it never tries hard enough for it to sink in. The effect becomes more of a self-mockery or, rather, a stiff caricature of the original concept, conveyed with very poor results.
The fault really lies with it’s poor choice of main character. Charles Farmer is dull. Inspiring, impressive, but dull. He’s the kind of character that would be a parody of ridiculous and nonsensical Southern values in a funnier movie, but here he is a painfully serious character, with the world playing a parody of itself instead. A man trying to build his own rocket that would probably self-implode and injure a number of people in real is treated with respect and reverence by the community and the government; a man to be applauded for his verve and his will, not locked up for his insane, delusional, and dangerous ideas. That’s a very intriguing parody, actually, but it isn’t played that way. Instead, we have an astronaut going through a mid-life crisis, building a rocket in his fucking barn, being treated like it’s acceptable, and the punchline portion is left blank because so has the joke portion.
And Billy Bob really takes the cake on this one. He couldn’t have played it more straight if the studio had stapled his lips and eyelids into a stationary position on his face. There’s going through the motions, there’s lazy acting, and then there’s just reading your lines. Billy Bob seemingly tackles all these situations simultaneously. He has no drive, no feeling for this character. It’s uncomfortably bland, and I actually had a difficult time watching him with bright-colored shirts on, because the film ends up turning everything in its immediate proximity a muted green or brown when he’s on it.
I’m disappointed in the Polish brothers for their poor choices in this film. I normally enjoy their films unequivocally. The Astronaut Farmer, unfortunately, leaves me feeling like they needed some direction themselves. I hear that they modeled the character of Farmer after their father, but I’m having a difficult time believing that the father of such talented and eccentric kids was such a fuddy-duddy. It doesn’t even seem plausible that a man could be so ineffectual but so important to a movie. I really don’t understand the logic they were working with. One would think that even with interesting supporting characters, there is hope, but the characters on the side are about as generic as having ketchup on your linguini.
I can’t even put my thoughts into words any more. It all just blurs into a drab color pallet, filled with crazy not crazy enough to be crazy and actors not acting enough to be considered acting. It’s a misstep, and all I can say is that I anxiously await the Polish brothers’ next picture. Hopefully it will feature someone interested to be there in the main role, because Billy Bob has officially checked out here. As I said, we may never know just how good Thornton is as an actor, but as a large source of drag for a semi-inspirational freak-show Field of Dreams, is in a league all his own. I give The Astronaut Farmer 3 1/2 whoopdy-doos out of 10.
Tomorrow I take on an entirely different kind of movie; a funny one! Come back for my review of Strange Brew! Until then!!!