The Astronaut’s Wife (review)

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From the Earth to the Yawn

I will prove we are not alone in the universe.

There’s a component of alien-conspiracy theory that purports that the United States government is in cahoots with Hollywood when it comes to science-fiction movies. See, the Feds want to soften us up before they reveal the fact they we’ve been members of an interstellar version of the UN for decades. So they make sure Hollywood bombards us with aliens and spaceships and all that kind of stuff, just so we get used to the idea, so the reality won’t come as a shock to us.
And, see, The Astronaut’s Wife is a clever attempt at distraction, at throwing off those conspiracy theorists who are getting too close to this awful truth. We’ll make a movie so absurd, so ridiculous, so boring — or so must have gone the reasoning of the military-entertainment complex — that no one could believe its content was actually dictated by a five-star general bunkered in the Pentagon. But conspiracy nuts– er, I mean, theorists, are too clever to be taken in by this simple ruse. No movie could be as unbelievably bad as The Astronaut’s Wife is by accident, perforce it must be a fabrication. It’s as transparent a ploy as that whole “it was only a weather balloon” explanation for Roswell.

Alien influence may actually be the only thing that can explain the existence of The Astronaut’s Wife. Everyone involved was possessed by something otherworldly when they signed their contracts — had to be.

Either way, it demonstrates the existence of alien life.*

Spencer Armacost (Johnny Depp: Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands) and Alex Streck (Nick Cassavetes) are astronauts who, while on an EVA from their shuttle orbiting Earth, are out of contact with the ground for two minutes. You wouldn’t think this would upset people all that much, but it does. The Astronaut’s Wife is about, among other things, characters seriously overreacting to things that don’t really seem like all that big a deal.

You can tell Depp is supposed to be an astronaut because he speaks with a Texas accent and his hair is dyed blond. And you can tell that when Spencer impregnates his wife, Jillian (Charlize Theron: The Cider House Rules, Mighty Joe Young), after a night of rough sex, she is pregnant with something evil, because she’s got Mia Farrow’s haircut from Rosemary’s Baby.

Nothing gets by Jillian, though. She worries that her husband has changed, because he quits the service after his little accident in space to take an job with an aerospace company building — gasp! — a fighter plane. Imagine, a pilot helping build a new plane. That would never happen. Additionally, Jillian has every reason to suspect her husband is evil because she also starred in Devil’s Advocate, in which her husband there also moved her from Florida to Manhattan, and he turned out to be in league with Satan. This has to be important. Why else would Spencer move them to New York? I bet he wasn’t even working for an aerospace company — I mean, not only does Manhattan not have runways, but just try getting a parking spot in Midtown.

Still, Jillian tries to be happy with her pregnancy, and why not? Even though she’s shooting Reddi-Whip directly into her mouth from the can, she — like all pregnant women in movies — has a nice round baby belly while still getting to keep the rest of her girlishly sticklike figure. No swollen ankles and puffy face for her! But things are upset when ex NASA (or as one NASA employee pronounces it: Nausau) official Sherman Reese shows up. Reese is played by Joe Morton (Apt Pupil, Speed 2: Cruise Control), and he might as well announce in his first scene, “Hi! I’m the token black guy in the sci-fi film and I’m going to die.” Reese is an overreactor, too: When Spencer’s partner Alex suffers a stroke and dies, and his wife (Donna Murphy: Star Trek: Insurrection) commits suicide, it doesn’t seem especially suspicious — the guy crashed after the accident in orbit and his wife was grief-stricken. But don’t tell Reese that. He investigates, and of course, he’s right in guessing that Spencer and Alex were infested with some kind of alien presence, but he’s only right because he’s in a movie about aliens.

So, Jillian is carrying two little alien babies — yes, twins. She tries to get rid of them, but the little monsters won’t let her go through with the abortion. They’re just too necessary for taking over the world, I guess. Oddly, though, the alien in Spencer’s body — that is, the alien father of these oh-so-important babies — has no problem with beating up Jillian when she becomes a problem, or pushing her pregnant body down the stairs. It’s at this point, when story logic — which has never been all that strong to start with — starts showing signs that its orbit is decaying when one starts to suspect that The Astronaut’s Wife is trying to be a metaphor for male dominance and possessiveness of women. And a fairly leaden metaphor, too. Spencer shoves his hand in Jillian’s crotch and says “I live here.” Spencer threatens Jillian with “I’m always gonna be here with you, Jill, always.” There are also — in an attempt at approximating spousal intimacy, I think — lots of nauseating closeups of lips, ears, noses, and unshaven pores. Yuck. I’d have thought I would have liked to be this close to Johnny Depp. I was wrong.

I gotta love, though, a movie that has, within its own dialogue, the perfect commentary on itself. “What are your hiding from me?” Spencer asks Jillian at one point — to which I’d respond, Um, the script? “Just a little bit of pain and then it’s over” is how a drug-induced abortion is described to Jillian — mirroring the experience of the watching the film. But the best example is a doctor’s description of the stroke that kills astronaut Alex: “a severe insult to the brain.”

A severe insult to the brain. The Astronaut’s Wife, in a nutshell.

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