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The Astronaut's Wife

Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 27 August 1999

The Astronaut's Wife

Written and Directed by Rand Ravich.

Starring Johnny Depp, 
Charleze Theron, Joe Morton, 
Donna Murphy, Clea DuVall, 
Tom Noonan, Blair Brown 
and Samantha Eggar.

In The Astronaut's Wife, Charleze Theron plays a woman whose husband (Johnny Depp) returns from a routine space mission where he mysteriously lost contact with mission control for two whole minutes. He refuses to tell her what happened to him during those two minutes. He also quits the space program, moves himself and his wife to New York City, takes a new job, grows increasingly colder as a person, and develops light blond streaks at the front of his hair which aren't artificial. The wife notices a N.A.S.A. security agent (Joe Morton) is dogging their steps. When he does finally tell his wife about what happened, up there, it's as a prelude to the act of conception. The results are successful: the wife finds out that she's expecting twins.

The Astronaut's WifeThe writer/director Rand Ravich shows style and a talent for creating a quiet, sustained sense of eeriness, and there are some good performances by Theron (who's very good, in fact), Depp (who creates a chilling characterization, even though his role in the movie flattens-out during the second half), and Morton (who's one of the best character actors we've got around, today). There's also some excellent editing work (by Steve Mirkovich and Tim Alverson), and set design (by Randall Wilkins): the apartment into which the main characters move in New York is made up of many different levels, but has no definite rooms.

But Ravich needs to get better material. As the film progresses, it turns out to be an outer-space rip-off of Rosemary's Baby, where, there as here, the heroine, going through her first pregnancy, gradually convinces herself that everyone is conspiring against her. Only, The Astronaut's Wife lacks the nuance, double-level meanings, and dark reason which made Ira Levin's tale so dramatically compelling. And Ravich concludes the film with an ending that's so insipid that it wrecks everything that came before it.

It does not end with Rosemary -- sorry -- Charleze Theron's character discovering her babies, alive and well, in a little flying saucer-shaped bassinet in the next door apartment. But, then, Roman Polanski, who directed the film version of Levin's novel, always had a way of finding the humor in every situation. The Astronaut's Wife takes itself very, very seriously, indeed. 

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