tv + film by Philbert Dy

The Zeitgeist is Loosely Cobbled Together in ‘The Space Between Us’

Mars doesn’t matter much in this story about a boy from Mars.

NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsThe Space Between Us concerns 16-year-old Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), who is in a pretty unique situation. His mother was the leader of the first manned mission to Mars. She left the Earth not knowing she was pregnant, and died giving birth to Gardner on the red planet. For fear of scandal and losing funding, Gardner’s existence was kept a secret, and he ended up being raised by the scientists living in the first human colony on Mars. He is stifled by his existence, and has been acting out. He is finally given a chance to visit Earth, and he escapes quarantine and seeks out his online friend Tulsa (Britt Robertson) in Colorado and asks for her help in looking for his father.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.49.31 AMThe movie applies sci-fi elements to what is essentially another young adult travel movie, with outsider kids going on a road trip, defying authority on a coming-of-age journey that allows them to deal with their internal turmoil and teenage angst. It barely matters, actually, that Gardner was born on Mars. The movie basically uses that fact as a means of providing some peril late into the movie, tossing in some dubious pseudo-scientific jargon that leads into the film’s most absurd moments. The cover story that Gardner initially uses to hide his true nature to Tulsa while he was still in Mars is actually just as plausible within the context of this particular story.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.51.31 AMSo the film doesn’t really seem to take its premise all that seriously. For large portions of the movie, it isn’t really all that important where Gardner is from. He’s odd, certainly, but not in a way that would immediately be suggest that he was born on a different planet. He could really just be another character from a John Green book, a round peg in a square hole trying to understand the world around him. The road trip, although much more grounded in concept, is also full of strange absurdities. At one point, Gardner and Tulsa escape from their pursuers by riding a bi-plane. The film’s occasional lapses in action feel really out of place within the story’s emotional arc.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.55.19 AMThe best moments of the film dial in on the winning sweetness of these characters. So maybe it doesn’t really capitalizes on the uniqueness of the premise, but when Gardner and Tulsa are alone, and they’re trying to sort out feelings they’re both completely unfamiliar with, the movie captures a glimmer of what it is to be young and in love; to feel like you’ve finally found an ally in a world that’s seemingly out to get you. In the smaller moments, the film plays out feelings of yearning and regret in the characters that are ultimately more entertaining than any of the big, plotty set pieces.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.53.19 AMA lot of it has to do with the charm of the actors. Asa Butterfield may in fact be a little too charming to play a young man who has had very little experience interacting with people, but he approaches the role with winning earnestness. Britt Robertson is burdened with trite teenage angst, but she makes it more or less work. Gary Oldman blusters his way through an underwritten role, managing to wring some emotion out of elements that might have just come off as silly. Carla Gugino is similarly undeserved by this script, but she delivers a professional performance that keeps everything watchable.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.53.39 AMThere is a sense that The Space Between Us is a film assembled by committee, that it was a story just cobbled together from the zeitgeist, mashing up trends in popular films over the last few years. It only seems to do the bare minimum to make these elements work together, and that really hurts it in the end. But there are isolated moments of sweetness that makes the film kind of endearing anyway. The cast is certainly trying to inject some magic into proceedings, no matter how trite or absurd things get.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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