Directed by Peter Chelsom
Written by Allan Loeb
The winter months sound cozy enough, especially when you live in the Midwest. It’s cold outside, perhaps snowy, and there’s nothing more you’d like to do than curl up on the couch and watch a great movie, or even to escape the weather outside in one of those new big comfy theater seats that have become popular in theaters. The problem? The winter months are notorious for “bad” movies. A proverbial wasteland of dreck which studios are just hoping to dump into release. As a result, you see more curling up on the couch with the Oscar nominations, newly released on DVD or streaming services, than you do the theater route, with very little appealing on the marquee. The Space Between Us looks promising though, or at the very least it isn’t something I would blindly discard as being another horrible teen romance drama based on the cast and trailer. Oh, how very little did I know.
Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman) is a dreamer. He dreams of being able to establish a colony on Mars called East Texas where humans can flourish and live. After the mission launches, it is reveled that the lead astronaut (Janet Montgomery) is pregnant, complicating matters. She dies giving birth to Gardner (Asa Butterfield) the first human born on Mars. NASA, however, decides to protect the science and potential of the mission by hiding Gardner’s existence from the world. Now 16, Gardner spends his time in relative isolation on Mars, with just a few scientists to help raise him. He at least has a mother figure in astronaut Kendra (Carla Gugino), and a “pen pal” in equally isolated foster kid Tulsa (Britt Robertson). After travelling to Earth, Gardner seeks out Tulsa, and the two run amok across the beautiful landscape of the American West in search of Garner’s unknown father, but Gardner’s body is not conditioned to live in the atmosphere of Earth.
Akin to the sick teen romance drama of something like The Fault in Our Stars, The Space Between Us certainly has ambitions, and isn’t completely trainwrecked by its premise (although an irresponsible lead astronaut getting pregnant just before the mission is a bit far-fetched). The screenplay here takes way too many chances with its characters, unrealistic twists and turns which are extremely eye-roll inducing. These don’t feel like real people, which is a shame because I feel like the setup of the relationship between Tulsa and Gardner is quite strong. Asa Butterfield is likely the best part of this film, playing the fish out of water Martian to perfection as his genuine sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, about human relationships feels very real. Butterfield’s reactions to some of the simplest things is a joy.
The film is unfortunately too busy trying to shock and awe at every turn that it doesn’t take the time to really explore these smaller moments of appreciation about the world in which we live, about the wonderful relationships we hold with fellow human beings. The film is originally setup as this love letter to humanity, to showcase the wonderful things about the world and the people who live in it, but instead of looking inside, instead of being an introspective exploration of these simpler delights of the world, the film is too predisposed to keep the viewer guessing. Gardner’s father should work as a MacGuffin, something which serves as a plot device to keep the characters motivated, but to not truly be meaningful in the end, allowing the film to become more about Gardner, Tulsa, and what it means to be human, what it means to share in the human experience. The Space Between Us really misses out on this opportunity by taking itself too seriously.
The Space Between Us has plenty of sweet “diamond in the rough” moments, which made me wonder why this film wasn’t any better than it was. They pop up every now and then as markers that there may be a decent idea behind this film. However, the film is far more “rough” than it is “diamond”, which makes it one to certainly skip, even if its cinematography is often gorgeous, highlighting the tremendous beauty of the natural world. It is a sharply photographed film if nothing else. Butterfield’s performance does have me hopeful that he can evolve into a decent leading man in future films. He has an on screen charisma which could lend itself to much better roles. But overall, The Space Between Us is a pretty horrible film.