I totally assumed The Space Between Us was based on a YA novel when I saw the trailer. Turns out, it’s not. It’s an original screenplay and story written by Allen Loeb (Just Go with It, Collateral Beauty). And while the script might be a hot mess riddled with plot holes, convenient “get from Point A to Point B” solutions, and dated slang that feels more 2005 than 2034, I can’t bring myself to give it the hate that other reviewers have been (The movie’s at 15% on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing this). I guess what I’m saying is I’m grading on a curve since this isn’t another remake or sequel.
After his astronaut mother dies in childbirth, Gardner Elliott (Asa Butterfield) grows up on Mars for 16 years, knowing nothing of the world outside of NASA’s East Texas settlement beyond what he learns from his surrogate mother Kendra (Carla Gugino) and Earth instant-messaging crush Tulsa (Britt Robertson). NASA finally decides to bring Gardner to Earth against the wishes of Genesis Technologies founder Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), who’s concerned about the PR for his Mars experiment, as well as how Earth’s gravity will affect Gardner’s bones and internal organs. After a few weeks trapped in quarantine, Gardner escapes Kennedy Space Center to go on a romantic adventure with Tulsa and find his father.
If you rolled your eyes through that plot description, then it’s safe to say this movie is not for you. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure who this movie is for anyway. It’s slightly more grown up than teen movies, but it feels too immature for young adults. Here’s the best way I can describe this movie. Picture a Nicholas Sparks “white people almost kissing” film with gorgeous scenery, a soundtrack that’s way better than the movie, and cheesy professions of love. And then mix that with The Martian and a hint of The Fault in Our Stars. Weird, right? It’s both cloying and impressive.
It doesn’t help that The Space Between Us often ignores common sense and basic science to drive its story. I mean, do you really think NASA isn’t constantly checking vitals and running tests on their astronauts up until launch? They would’ve caught a pregnancy with a blood test! Or that NASA can chase one boy across the entire U.S. (incompetently at that) and not have the story get out about why they’re chasing some kid? Or that an irrigation plane can crash into an old wooden barn and cause an explosion like it collided with a commercial generator? (Yes, that happened.)
And then there’s the cheese. So much cheeeeeeese. Oldman and Gugino are overacting their asses off to compensate for the script’s lack of depth for their characters. And Butterfield and Robertson as star-crossed lovers from different planets, though they have their moments, are about as compelling as a piece of cardboard.
But—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I was kind of digging it. When you suspend the disbelief and accept the melodrama, it’s a fairly cool idea for a story. Plus, there’s this lingering question of whether you’re truly human if you weren’t born on Earth, if your body is physically different from other humans, and if you don’t have shared human experiences. Now, mind you, the movie dances around this question and never actually confronts it, which is disappointing because that idea is WAY more interesting than another story about two teenagers who don’t really “fit it” falling in love. But when you watch The Space Between Us from the perspective of “a movie about the human experience,” it works in spite of itself.
I know, I know! I should hate this movie, right? (I swear I wasn’t drunk when I saw it.) It’s like the optimism, warm fuzzies, and pretty imagery brainwashed me into cutting it some slack. Look, it might be a dumb movie, but at least it was a dumb movie with a new idea that tried to show me a good time (and occasionally did). And in my book, that’s better than a straight-up bad movie.
The Space Between Us: B-
Listen to my The Space Between Us review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 34:02).