It’s hard to be a teenager. Gardner and Tulsa would know best. Tulsa’s a foster kid, about to age out of the system. She’s counting down the days until she can be free. The only person who makes her feel less isolated is her email pen-pal Gardner.
Gardner feels the same way. Nobody understands him. He’s stuck in his room all the time. He doesn’t have any friends his age. The only confidant he has is a scientist and a robot. He’s completely isolated. It’s like he lives on Mars.
he does… live…. on Mars.
The Space Between Us tells the story of Gardner, who, after his astronaut mother gives birth to him on Mars, is sent back to earth when he’s old enough. When he gets down to Earth, he finds out his body can’t survive on Earth for long. He’s told by the founder of the program that sent his mother into space in the first place, Dr. Shepard (Gary Oldman and his long, luscious locks, possibly the greatest strength of the whole movie), that he has to go back.
So Gardner escapes. He breaks out of the NASA facility and finds Tulsa (who for some unforgivable reason does not, in fact, live in Tulsa), who at first doesn’t believe him. But when she gets pulled along onto his fugitive adventure to find his father and experience Earth for the first time, they both discover what is so magical about our world.
The most glaring flaw in The Space Between Us is its identity crisis. The film is torn between being an interesting blockbuster, a genre-twisting space movie, and a Nickelodeon teen romance with a big budget. One minute, Dr. Shepard is talking about the importance of space and exploration. The next minute, Tulsa and Gardner are making out. Then, in the next scene, Gardner is reflecting on the importance of living life to the fullest and about the beauty around us. Then, the film steals from the Me Before You playbook with an on-the-nose song about mutual pining.
You could say this is brilliant screenwriting. Gardner is torn between what he is. Is he a marvel of modern science, or a boy who just wants to be normal? Maybe there is a bigger, deeper meaning to this flip-flopping picture!
Or, you know, it could just be bad screenwriting.
The film, to its credit, does a pretty good job with both of its identities. The Mars setting, despite shots seemingly ripped straight from The Martian, is nicely realized. The discussion about Gardner and the ethics of his situation are clearly explained. I can understand both sides. It may be a little talky, but creating a dilemma where I can empathize with everyone involved is sophisticated.
The film takes place in a distant future. It’s the optimistic future portrayed in The Martian, and after a few too many Hunger Games and Divergences, I’m happy to say I’d be content if that is where our future is headed.
As for the teen romance/ road-trip-for-freedom movie embedded in here, it’s impossible to dislike, unless you don’t have a heart. Or, you are are a NASA scientist. This is where Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson shine. They take two-day romances and make them feel real. I felt the chemistry even in the stalest of lines. Britt Robertson, in particular, is able to take a role that could have easily rolled into Mary Sue and unlikable territory and keeps it real. It’s what she did in 2015’s Tomorrowland, and she does it again here, and I’m continually impressed.
One of the best aspects of the film is its messages. The tagline of the film- “What is your favorite thing about earth?”- gets repeated several times by the characters. It’s got all the nuance of that pesky feather from Forrest Gump. Except, maybe during a time when a lot of people are feeling anxious and scared, remembering the wonderful things in life isn’t a bad thing.
The other message besides the obvious one is something I think is maybe even more powerful. The Space Between Us has a very compelling pro-life message. It starts right from the get-go. Gardner’s mother knows having her baby is a risk. Yet she chooses to have him, at the cost of her own life. Then the NASA scientists have a choice: risk the boy’s life in order to bring him to earth to do some PR, or leave him up there. Then throughout the whole movie, every single character’s mission is the same thing: Save Gardner.
As Gardner embarks on his road trip, he impacts every person he meets, because he has a love of life that he spreads. His life is valuable, and so is theirs. I would go so far as to say that Gardner could be seen as a metaphor for special needs children. Life is precious, and it should always be protected. Often people like that are the ones that show it best.
That is a message we need. The film isn’t on the nose, or obvious about it. It may not have even had the intention of it. But a message that is more timely than, remember what is good in your life, is, remember who is worthy of life. Everyone. And we have to band together, like the characters in this movie, to make sure that we protect this right, for every single person around us.
For me, this message, and me being an absolute sucker for so many things in this film (the actors, finding your father storylines, road trips) make it a lovely movie. Yes, it is flawed. Yes, it has an identity crisis. And yes, it is not the next Citizen Kane. But it falls in the same category as last year’s Now You See Me 2. It made me happy. It made me smile, and I would watch it again in a heartbeat.
So grab your moon shoes and enjoy this space-movie renaissance! See you at Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Alien: Covenant, Life, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Intelligent Life, and many more to come.