If twin filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish take cues from David Lynch, then THE ASTRONAUT FARMER is their version of THE STRAIGHT STORY. Though the brothers usually deal in the surreal (NORTHFORK) and the strange (TWIN FALLS, IDAHO), this drama about a would-be astronaut is almost pedestrian by comparison. But thanks to strong performances and a quirky story, this film manages to be both interesting and inspirational. Billy Bob Thornton (BAD SANTA) plays Charles Farmer, a man who is unwilling to let his lack of NASA credentials keep him from space. Instead, he builds a rocket in his Texas barn and prepares to launch it. When his attempts to purchase large amounts of fuel draw the eye of the government, he must contend with the law, the press, and mounting bills.Though Farmer is a rebel of sorts, he is a departure from the gruff characters Thornton usually plays in films such as BAD SANTA and BAD NEWS BEARS. He is tender toward his family and idealistic, though he doesn't hesitate to throw a brick through a window. Virginia Madsen continues her ascent after SIDEWAYS with her role as Farmer's long-suffering wife. Her chemistry with both Thornton and the three young actors that play their children brings a believable family dynamic to the film. Character actors Tim Blake Nelson (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) and Jon Gries (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE) add charm and sincerity to their roles as Farmer's lawyer and an FBI agent, respectively.
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