The Right Stuff ★★★★

73/100

Begins and ends weakly: the Yeager prologue strains too hard to be iconic (and is rife with tin-eared dialogue, unlike the rest of the movie—"We did it! We finally broke the sound barrier" someone cries, as if anyone in earshot or in the audience hadn't worked that out—while the epilogue ("And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen") just feels like a cheap shot...especially given that it's spoken by Levon Helm, who also plays Yeager's gum-loaning wingman. But the arrival of Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer in minor roles heralds a marvelous change of pace, and Kaufman's affectionate satire of the Mercury program's training regimen and PR campaign enlivens docudrama conventions by focusing on the stuff that's usually elided: semen samples, José Jiménez impressions, inconveniently full bladders during stalled missions. Superb storytelling instincts, too—the smash cut from Glenn's harrowing re-entry right into his ticker-tape parade, for example, is truly inspired (and also weirdly seems to anticipate that we'd end up watching the same basic scene anyway, with Ed Harris on the ground, a dozen years later in Apollo 13). IMPORTANT: If you give a performance as hugely charismatic as Dennis Quaid's, and suddenly have a shot at major stardom, choose your vehicles wisely. They should not be Dreamscape and Enemy Mine.