- Misfit Blue Collar Teen? Check.
- Stern and Stoic Father Figure? Check.
- Supportive Female Mentor? Check.
- Superfluous Love Interest Who is Totally Wrong For Male Lead? Check.
- Superfluous Love Interest Who is Totally Right, But Not His First Choice? Check.
- Climax Father/Son Bonding Gestures? Double Check.
Seems like everything is in order here... carry on, movie.
Set during the Space Race with Russia in the middle of the Cold War, October Sky follows Jake Gyllenhaal as young Homer Hickam who is the son of the local coal mine foreman and dreams of something better than a life underground. To that end, and inspired by Sputnik high overhead, he and his friends elect to start building rockets.
At first just a fun hobby, their teacher Ms. Riley (Laura Dern) encourages them to enter their rockets in the state science fair with the aim of going to nationals and perhaps getting scholarships so they can leave their tiny coal town behind them.
This whole process doesn't sit well with Homer's father, who is played by gruff character actor Chris Cooper. He discourages and forbids Homer's lofty dreams often and only rarely helps out through discarded materials and the like. Of course this leads to a third act olive branch where the two bond over Union appeasement and de Laval nozzles, but hey... that's Hollywood for you.
Based on a true story, October Sky is your typical Coming of Age schmaltz... but it's still somewhat decent. While it stumbles horribly with it's weak subplots, like Homer's fruitless crush and Ms. Riley's cancer (which comes out of nowhere), the core of the story plays out pretty decently. Sure, it's full of your basic amounts of "Aw shucks" cheese and plucky sticktoitiveness, but they're at acceptably muted levels.
I would say that October Sky is a decent enough movie to show to kids on substitute days in Science Class, much like Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You could be a good way to get English Class kids into Jane Austen or Shakespeare, but it doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to great cinema. It's good, but not superb in any way.
Until tomorrow, Potatoes~