Romance films – I’m cool with them. Sometimes they are done extremely well. Sometimes romance and science-fiction mesh extremely well too! In fact, there’s a little movie about science-fiction in the form of time travel mixed with romance called About Time. It’s funny, smart and warms your heart all at the same time and has a bunch of great actors in it. I highly recommend it. However, this review is not about… About… Time. It is unfortunately about the cheeseball romantic sci-fi/space travel film The Space Between Us starring the worst part of that Miss Peregrine film and a shouty accented Gary Oldman. Brace yourselves.
The film’s plot concerns the story of a mission to Mars involving one particular female astronaut (Janet Montgomery) gets sent to live on Mars for a four-year mission along with her crew. Unfortunately, months into the trip she discovers that she is pregnant and thus will have to deliver the child on Mars due to a last-minute decision by the founder of this East Texas space program, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), in a moment of panic. It is also unfortunate because she dies during childbirth on Mars, birthing a son that can only survive on that planet. We soon find out that young Gardner (Asa Butterfield) who has grown up for the last few years ‘in a bubble’ surrounded by scientists is finally allowed to go to Earth to connect with a female friend, Tulsa (Britt Robertson) that he’s only known through online chat rooms. However, when it is discovered that he will probably be sent back to Mars due to the weakness of his organs and inability to sustain himself for very long on Earth, he escapes his makeshift prison and attempts to find the girl and locate his real father.
What to say about this one? I kinda got the feeling after watching the trailer that we were in trouble. When your 2 ½ minute trailer contains enough cheeseball moments to make you cringe, you know that the film is going to amp that up to eleven… and that’s just what it does. Right from the get-go, a big question that comes to mind is why would you have someone that is pregnant get on-board a major launch like that? You are a multi-billion dollar company? Do you not put your astronauts through regular testing before they go into space like NASA would? That is one ultimate flaw to the beginning of the premise right there. Another one is this: if Gardner has spent 16 years of his life on Mars surrounded by scientists and having access to all forms of entertainment, popular culture and the like he should at least be somewhat accustomed to life on Earth. Now, I am not saying that he should feel at home immediately (and there are admittedly a few funny fish-out-of-water scenarios early in the film) but he should at least have a decent understanding of history and such. He acts like a total alien to everything and can barely even communicate proper English, which, again, he should’ve already had basic command over when he lived with people for 16 years!
So now that I’ve blown the premise out of the water, let’s talk more about this film’s style. It is basically another cash-in attempt at one of those mushy teen dramedies like The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay or other similar titles. The difference is that those particular movies work because they dial back the saccharine aspects and ramp up the other qualities like acting and stronger dialogue and story. This one falls on the shoulders of the actors because the dialogue is out-of-this-world (did you see what I did there?) and I don’t mean that in a good way. It feels like so much more could be done with the dialogue but everything feels like a plot convenience. For instance, to show the blossoming love growing between Gardner and Tulsa, we have a scene in which Tulsa inexplicably starts playing a keyboard in the middle of a Sam’s Club and Gardner tells her that her singing is beautiful and later remarks that she herself is beautiful. It doesn’t take long to break the barriers of intimacy down after that and before you know it, they’re having an intimate moment outside in front of a campfire. However, you don’t feel any of it because you never felt their connection in the first place. It’s almost like the movie told us that they’re falling in love rather than show it to us.
So how is the acting in this movie? Honestly, while it’s not fantastic, it is better than I expected. I critically assaulted Asa Butterfield for his terrible performance in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and found his delivery to be quite dreadful. How he emerged in Hollywood with acclaimed performances in Hugo and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas will continue to confound me. However, that having been said, I thought he was vastly improved in this movie and actually provided a couple of the only laughs and/or genuine moments to be had. Whenever he had to display a great deal of emotion, it was a bit of a dicey performance but generally, he was okay. The scenes in which he is first discovering Earth are interesting mostly just to his wide-eyed curiosity like a scene in which he creeps out a guy on the bus and another in which he has a strange conversation with a homeless fellow.
Joining him as the romantic lead is an actress seven years his senior and I say it’s about time! I’m tired of the guy always being 20 years older than his romantic interest. Like, am I supposed to buy that someone like Emma Stone would fall for Colin Firth at his age? Gross. Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. Britt is older and that’s good but the only problem is that she is supposed to be playing a high school-aged girl no older than 18, which was the same problem with Lucas Till in Monster Trucks. She is the other bright spot of the movie though as she does quite good and probably outshines Butterfield despite being given nothing to work with either. Carla Gugino is fine in a nothing role but for most of the movie she just looks concerned while Gary Oldman shouts his way through the movie. I love Gary but he chews the scenery so much, I’m surprised he didn’t choke.
The movie’s run time is a bit unnecessary too as it clocks in at just over two hours, which is way too much than this even needed: cut out a good chunk of the middle of the movie and you have it at a perfectly reasonable length (even though it’s still a dud). If the romantic chemistry had been stronger or the writing better perhaps it could work but it’s not so it ain’t. It’s not like the movie does anything great with that time either. There is a thought early on in the film that maybe the movie will focus a bit on Oldman’s dilemma on whether to report the birth on Mars or keep it under wraps to prevent a P.R. disaster but that is quickly glossed over. There is also the possibility that the film will contain some type of environmental message but that is also cast aside in favour of cliched romantic melodrama.
There are also some minor things that annoyed me like how the futuristic world apparently doesn’t include modern (or in some cases) older models of vehicles or how laptops are almost invisible and light up but for some reason but classrooms still use whiteboard in the movie. There are elements that are completely dropped like Tulsa’s alcoholic stepdad, who she puts in a plane at one point in a scene where I must’ve been distracted because it made no sense. But alas, if you are planning on seeing it, you’ll probably go anyway despite this review. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.
PS: There is a bit of a plot twist that I, admittedly, didn’t see coming as early as my girlfriend did but man, it is glaring and obvious and really takes a lot of emotional punch out of the movie.
RATING: * ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)