The Space Between Us (2017)
What’s Your Favorite Thing About Earth?
A harmless inter-planetary young adult romance, the sweet, syrupy The Space Between Us has one major flaw, and that is the age discrepancy between its two main stars, leads Asa Butterfield (who’s 19) and the adorable Britt Robertson (who’s 26). While younger audiences might not notice this sizable age gap, knowledge of the aforesaid makes the pair’s kissing and cuddling feel a little jarring, even if the twosome do share a solid rapport together, with Robertson coming across more like an older sister-type figure rather than a love interest. Yes, both Butterfield and Robertson are solid performers, but there was a simple solution to this problem and that was to cast actors who were a little closer in age.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Space Between Us opens with a large corporation, Genesis Space Technologies, who are preparing to set up the first colony on Mars, which project leader Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman) has named East Texas. Complications arise two months into the mission when chief astronaut Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) finds out she’s pregnant while heading to the fourth planet from the Sun. Several months later she dies, giving birth to a boy on the rusty-red colored marble, with Genesis director Tom Chen (BD Wong) and CEO Nathaniel torn between the ethical question of whether they should tell the world about the first-ever baby born on Mars or keep it a secret to avoid a PR disaster — Nathaniel eventually deciding on the latter.
16 years later and the colony is thriving with the baby having now grown — under the protection of his surrogate mother Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino) — into a brainy, slightly inquisitive young man named Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield). With little to do on the red rock, Gardner spends most of his time tinkering with robotics or watching and re-watching the 1987 fantasy flick, Wings of Desire, possibly due to its relatable subject matter. What the adults don’t know, however, is that Gardner has been secretly communicating (via an internet chatroom) with a rambunctious Earth girl from Colorado who goes by the nickname of Tulsa (Britt Robertson), their conversations making him more and more curious about Mother Earth. Gardner tells Tulsa that he’s confined to a Park Avenue penthouse, with a rare bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta) preventing him from going outside, but promises to come and see her one day, even if he knows he can never visit the blue planet because of his enlarged heart, which could burst in the world’s atmosphere. All the while, Gardner becomes increasingly curious about his biological father, whom he’s only seen through snippets of ‘virtual visit’ recordings and photos.
Thanks to the magic of movies, all it takes Gardner is few training montages and a couple of interstellar flights, and voilà, he’s back on Earth, along with his guardian Kendra. But, when Shepard locks Gardner in a holding cell — the Richard Branson-type billionaire insistent on running tests on the young Martian — Gardner slips out and heads to Colorado to meet his sweetheart in person — come on, who wouldn’t, it’s Britt Robertson we’re talking about here! After coming face-to-face with Tulsa who, at first, is quite defensive and weary of Gardner’s eccentricities, the pair set off on a road trip across the American West in an effort to reach Gardner’s father, who’s apparently living in coastal California. Stealing various vehicles along the way, the duo form a starry-eyed bond as they try to outrun the authorities and Gardner’s mounting health problems, with those on their trail concerned that the boy’s organs might not be able to withstand Earth’s conditions for much longer.
Directed by British filmmaker Peter Chelsom, Serendipity (2001), who also provides the voice of the Gardner’s only ‘friend’ on Mars, a robot named Centaur, The Space Between Us picks up steam after a slow start on the Red Planet, with filmmaker Chelsom choosing to focus more on the road trip element (and the dewy-eyed connection between Gardner and Tulsa) as opposed to the science or the narrative’s easy-to-solve puzzle. That said, the archetypal ‘nerd falls for rebel’ love story works better than it ought to, this thanks to the fine work from Asa Butterfield and the ever charismatic Britt Robertson.
Between Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) and this, Butterfield seems to have all the mannerisms of a quirky kid down pat, the young actor rendering the character’s goofy awkwardness, wide-eyed wonder and stiff-footing (his body not used to Earth’s gravity) with relative ease, the script by Allan Loeb, Collateral Beauty (2016), also relying on Butterfield’s performance for its predictable fish-out-of-water jokes. Breathing life into the self-reliant 17-year-old foster-child of Tulsa is Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland (2015), who (bar looking a bit too mature) manages to sell several of the flick’s cornier moments, titbits that a lesser actress perhaps could not — in particular, a scene that sees Tulsa sing a touching ballot whilst playing a Yamaha keyboard in the middle of a Sam’s Club shopping center, Robertson simultaneously managing to elevate her appeal by slapping on a cute blue dress and dazzling her unusual travel compadre.
It’s not just the engaging leads who hide most of the script’s shortcomings, as the cinematography by Barry Peterson, 22 Jump Street (2014), is quite stupendous, the lens capturing several of the vast Earthly landscapes with a grand sense of awe — it almost feels as though we’re seeing places such as Las Vegas and the American countryside for the very first time, through Gardner’s virgin eyes. Similarly, the stratospheric photography and extra-terrestrial terrain have also been marvelously shot, the film evoking those gorgeous visuals from Ridley Scott’s 2015 sci-fi hit, The Martian.
Sorta like a millennial version of John Carpenter’s Starman (1984), the hokey Space Between Us certainly has its virtues, particularly the idea of surveying someone who’s been born in isolation, then seeing them set free into the wider world, unable to understand the dos and don’ts of basic human interaction; it’s just a shame that this concept is never fully fleshed out. With a tighter script and a few tweaks here and there, The Space Between Us could have been a much stronger film, one that, no doubt, would have rocketed above its star-crossed lovers storyline. Hoisted by several strong performances and some breathtaking scenery, it’s easy to see why I was sucked into the flick’s zero gravity pull, my ice-cold heart unable to withstand its wistful sugary spell. Plus, we get a cool crop-duster explosion at around the midway mark, too!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie