Nobody plays a likeable scumbag like Billy Bob Thornton. From a murderous hillbilly to a drunken, foul-mouthed Santa, he has made a career of playing eccentric curmudgeons, and he has perfected the art of being repellent, but somehow strangely charming. In this remake of the much-loved 1976 Walter Matthau comedy, Thornton is a natural as the booze-soaked Little League coach who finds himself managing a ragtag team of potty-mouthed misfits. He’s the kind of guy who wears a t-shirt that reads “She Looked Better Last Night” to Little League practice, and builds “team spirit” by getting the kids to do the dirty work in his extermination business.
The script stays faithful to the original movie—although in keeping with the times, is probably a little more vulgar. Bad Santa scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa know how to write for Thornton, keeping him just on the right side of the film’s PG-13 rating with dialogue peppered with the kind of profanity and slurs Matthau would never have dreamed of saying on screen.
The remake also takes liberties with the original movie’s line-up of players—the fat kid, the nerd etc—adding in characters that better reflect today’s cultural landscape. There is an Armenian kid, a boy in an electric wheel-chair and a youngster who appears to be a few runs short an inning and for the most part the kids are foul-mouthed little hellions who will likely inspire parents to send their adolescent kids to boot camp just to make sure they don’t turn out like this bunch.
The recent Bad News Bears shares much with its predecessor, but with a contemporary edge. It delights in confronting—and stomping on—the kind of political correctness that simply didn’t exist in 1976 when the first one was made and in that sense is a film that is very much of it’s time—a little edgier, a little meaner, but just as funny.
I think Billy Bob Thornton is one of the best actors working today. He too often falls back on his comfortable grumpy-drunk-guy persona in movies like Bad News Bears and Bad Santa, but when he breaks free of his tried and true tricks the results can be impressive. In the new movie from filmdom’s only twin co-directing siblings, The Polish Brothers, Thornton hands in a moving and inspirational performance as a man with his head quite literally in the clouds.
Charlie Farmer (Thornton) is an engaging eccentric, an inspirational American folk hero who won’t let anything stand between him and his dreams. A former NASA employee, he had to leave the astronaut program to run his family’s farm after the death of his father. An engineer by trade, he ran the cattle farm by day and by night built a giant rocket ship in his barn. Framer may have left NASA but his dreams of visiting outer space didn’t stop there. Farmer, his wife, (another supportive wife role for Virginia Madsen), and children become media darlings when the FBI swoop down on his operation, looking for WMDs and leak the story to the press.
The Astronaut Farmer works on several levels. The Polish Brothers have stepped out from behind the art house veneer that informed their past work to make a film that has one foot in the mainstream, but doesn’t betray their roots. The movie is beautiful to look at, with a soft glow that feels timeless and nostalgic, but is also subversive.
When asked “Mr. Farmer, how do we know you aren’t constructing a WMD?” by a NASA Committee Member, Farmer replies, “Sir, if I was building a weapon of mass destruction, you wouldn’t be able to find it,” with a cutting charm that wouldn’t be out of place in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The Astronaut Farmer is a warm family film that breathes new life into the hoary old “follow your dreams” storyline.