Making the Grades
If you think your husband has a hobby that takes up way too much time and money, you'll be relieved you're not married to Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton). He's not fixing up an old Chevy out back in his dilapidated wood barn, but instead is constructing a rocket! The do-it-yourself project is an attempt to fulfill a lifelong ambition that got waylaid when he was discharged years earlier from a military astronaut-training program.
His wife Audrey (Virginia Madsen) has reservations, and not for a window seat. While she is doing her best to support her man's dreams, she is also worried about the myriad of consequences that follow having a literal space case on her hands. The activity has left their family hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and there's a chance her husband may actually light the engines (assuming he can get the necessary fuel past federal enforcement agents) and put his life in extreme danger.
The hazardous combustibles are only one of many reasons various government agencies are trying to keep this guy firmly planted on the ground. Even his old army buddy (played by an uncredited Bruce Willis) tells him NASA would take a public relations dent if any old farmer could go into orbit. But, like all good movie heroes, resistance only makes Farmer's resolve stronger. With his 15-year-old son Shepard (Max Thieriot) manning mission control from an Airstream trailer, the space cowboy is prepared to ignite the flames that will either launch him into the heights of celestial celebrity or plunge him to the depths of devastating disaster.
Mark and Michael Polish, the twin brothers who made this film, have become known for breaking rules in traditional cinema, and this title is no exception. An offbeat pacing makes the production feel longer than it is. It's also difficult to pigeonhole -- one moment it's a comedy, and the next it's a drama about a woman who is frantically trying to determine if her husband is an inspired visionary or suffering from a mental condition. These tensions mount during an argument over dinner, which results in raised voices, a thrown plate of food, and kids scurrying for cover.
Such serious situations, along with some mild profanities, scatological expletives, and a crude term for sex, create a surprising amount of content concerns when compared to other movies that have received a PG rating over the past few years. Parents who have seen previews for this film may be expecting a whimsical family story. While the plot and some inspiring messages are certainly compelling, there are still many very adult oriented moments that may be good reason to leave preteens at home before blasting off to see this Astronaut Farmer.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Astronaut Farmer.
At one point Charles Farmer says, “Somewhere along the line we stopped believing that we can do anything. And if we don’t have our dreams we have nothing.” As a society, do you think we are less willing to take risks for science and other worthwhile causes? Was Charles Farmer’s dream worth risking his life for?
A joke in this movie refers to the Bush administration’s inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What other politically motivated remarks in this movie are based on recent real life events? How do comments that relate to reality, along with fake interviews—such as the one with Jay Leno—add to the sense that this movie (which is a complete work of fiction) is presenting a true story?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to The Astronaut Farmer.
In the movie October Skies, a group of “Rocket Boys” also dreams of reaching the stars—even though they live in a small coal mining town. Kitty Hawk: The Wright Brothers’ Journey Of Invention follows the real life adventures of the ultimate do-it-yourselfers.