Call it “The Unspectacular Now.”
“The Space Between Us” aims to be an epic story of young love on the level of “The Spectacular Now” or “The Fault in Our Stars.” The cinematography often is gorgeous and the score is full of teary uplift. But none of that matters when little about the film feels authentic.
Set in a near future where a group of astronauts – thanks to visionary Richard Branson/Elon Musk-like scientist/entrepreneur Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman) – is on its way to Mars for a long-term stay, the film does raise questions worth pondering. What if one of the crew (Janet Montgomery) were secretly pregnant as she boarded the ship? Once the word is out, do you bring them back or let them go? Assuming the latter, how would a human not born on Earth be different from all those who came before? How disorienting would it be for the child to be from Earth but not of Earth?
In “The Space Between Us,” the baby boy, Gardner, grows into a bright, inquisitive and relatively happy young man (Asa Butterfield) among the scientists in the antiseptic, artificial world of the Martian outpost. But he may never experience his true “home” as his body is slightly different from other humans; he isn’t suited for Earth’s atmosphere or pressure.
But he has developed an online friendship with another lonely teenager, an Earth girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), and that neatly dovetails with the desire of Shepard’s company to find a way to reintegrate him into the larger human society.
So Gardner becomes the boy who fell to earth … and that’s when the movie falls apart.
Quickly breaking away from his minders, Gardner goes on a mission to find both Tulsa and his father. Outside of having trouble at first walking and running (because he feels so “heavy” on Earth), Gardner shows little sense of the extreme dislocation someone in his position would feel.
A bigger problem, though, rests with the Tulsa character. Perhaps in an effort to make her more “Force Awakens” cool, director Peter Chelsom (“Hannah Montana: The Movie”) and writers Allan Loeb, Stewart Schill and Richard Barton Lewis have turned her into a veritable superhero – she flies planes! she expertly breaks into and steals cars! she has wisdom beyond her years! – thus undermining any emotional credibility the film had been trying to build. If they wanted to show how strong and independent she is, they could have done it without making her a cartoon.
We’re supposed to applaud as these crazy kids flout authority and escape across the country, but since the movie has so easily squandered its intriguing premise, there’s little reason to cheer.
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