Balloon Animals

‘The Aeronauts’ is Wholesome, Semi-Lame Old-Timey Entertainment

I saw The Aeronauts movie. Set in a racially-diverse, poverty-free Victorian London, this film tells the semi-true story of what happens when a nerdy meteorologist and sexy lady pilot fly way higher than they should in a hot-air balloon. Eddie Redmayne plays the scientist, who wants to be the Sir Isaac Newton of weather. Felicity Jones is the pilot, a grieving widow who loves going high, if not getting high.


THE AERONAUTS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Tom Harper
Written by: Tom Harper, Jack Thorne
Starring: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne
Running time: 100 min


 

The Aeronauts centers around an epic two-hour balloon trip, where Jones and Redmayne climb to more than 36,000 feet, pretty insane for 1862. They experience a lot of dangerous weather, a swarm of butterflies, and surprisingly little sexual tension, which is kind of nice. Redmayne mostly simpers nobly while Jones does the action-hero stuff. She swashbuckles and swings on ropes as well as Errol Flynn ever did, with much higher production values. The balloon scenes are generally visceral and exciting and will be a waking nightmare for agoraphobes. When Jones climbs the balloon in below-freezing weather to kick open the gas valve so they can descend, it’s Free Solo in oilskins, Gravity in bloomers.

This is an entirely wholesome movie, safe to watch with your kids on Amazon Prime, where it will be streaming soon. The Aeronauts reminds me of old-school Disney live action movies, with a slightly modern sensibility. It’s steampunk without the punk. Unlike recent “message” movies like the annoying Queen & Slim, it’s pro-science without being didactic, and feminist without preaching. Jones and Redmayne both have plenty of star power, Jones wears some fabulous outfits, and she never delivers a wooden line.

You can’t say the same for Hamish Patel, star of Yesterday, who plays the only other character of significance in the movie, a scientist friend of Redmayne’s who has ridiculous muttonchops that seem to suck all energy from the picture. The Aeronauts stops dead whenever he’s on screen, which, mercifully, isn’t very often. Also, he is obviously Indian. While I know it’s trendy to do color-blind casting these days, it just doesn’t make sense in period pictures. An Indian man of science works in modern-day London, but not in the 1860s.

The Aeronauts makes some other mistakes. I can’t imagine why the screenplay deploys a flashback structure, which just saps tension, and there’s some weird voiceover narration at the end that come out of nowhere. Why do movies do that? The filmmaker is no great artist; this is just general craftsmanship. Your story is enough. Just tell it straight.

Really, Felicity Jones is very good. Unfortunately, in the real Aeronauts, she was a man, not a barnstorming widow. And that’s why the movie doesn’t end with those captions that tell the “true” story. Instead, it ends with a terrible song by the Norwegian pop star Sigrid that really sucks the air out of the balloon. It’s some corny-ass bullshit. Listen to this thing:

 

This concludes my review of The Aeronauts movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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