They’re literally from two different worlds. He’s a socially awkward boy who grew up in a space colony on Mars. She’s a street-smart juvenile delinquent from the dusty fields of Colorado, Earth. The two fall in love unexpectedly … I guess you could say they didn’t “planet” to happen.
Okay, sorry for the bad joke, but this movie already has a punny name, so it’s fair game. The Space Between Us, however is far more serious than its title might suggest: it’s an epic romance that ambitiously tries to combine science fiction with teenage romance.
Unfortunately, its execution suffers from a bit of failure to launch, resulting in the film feeling like a peculiar mix of The Martian and The Fault In Our Stars, but with little of the magic that made those two films memorable.
Directed by Peter Chelsom (Town And Country, Shall We Dance?, Hannah Montana: The Movie), The Space Between Us opens by introducing us to a space mission founded by Richard Branson-like billionaire Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman).
Six astronauts are going off to colonise Mars: to Shepherd’s horror, however, he discovers that one of them (the mission leader, to boot!) is pregnant during the journey. Deciding not to turn back, the astronaut delivers her baby on the Red Planet, dying in the process. Nathaniel decides to hide this fact from the press, and secretly raise the baby in the Martian colony.
Now an unexpected birth is already quite a scary thing. Imagine it happening on a space shuttle. What kind of procedures are in place to deal with such an emergency? What happens if things do not go according to plan? How do you raise, train and educate a child in outer space? Answering all these questions would probably already make a compelling drama.
The Space Between Us, however, decides not to go down this path. Instead, it flashes forward to when the child, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), is 16, old enough to have a Big Angsty Romance. You think that him being the only teenager in a space colony would make this difficult, yet somehow, he manages to strike up an online friendship with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a troubled American kid.
When the time comes for Shepherd to take him back to Earth, Gardner makes a break for it. What results is a ridiculously scenic journey across America, as our Martian child tries to find Tulsa and learn more about himself. What he doesn’t know, however, is that his internal organs, used to atmospheric conditions on Mars, are ill-equipped for life on Earth.
(It was also roughly at this point that The Space Between Us became so sappy that my Earth-born heart and stomach were ill-equipped for it.)
Gardner and Tulsa go through every teen romance cliché in the galaxy, in various scenes set to overbearingly trite pop-rock ballads probably ripped from the playlist of an overly emo teenager. The film becomes so predictable it is almost insulting, and parts of the supposedly “romantic” dialogue are so clunky and out of this world that you wonder if they were written by an actual Martian.
Which is a bit of a pity because, if you remove the overblown teen romance, The Space Between Us might actually be quite fun to watch. The film builds to a clever twist at the end that enhances it tremendously, and its depictions of what happens when a Mars-adapted human returns to Earth are quite intriguing.
The performances are also rather good. Butterfield does a winning job: his Gardner, unused to Earth’s customs and social interaction, has just the right amount of otherworldiness to be both fascinating and endearing. The actor also has a nice, easy chemistry with Robertson, who does well as Tulsa, although she looks a bit too old to be playing a high school girl.
And what can we say about good old Oldman, except that he is as reliable as ever. His eccentric, somewhat troubled billionaire is a highly intriguing, compelling character. Sometimes you wonder why the film couldn’t be about him, instead of these angsty teens, who seem to have wandered out of some bad John Green fan fiction.
All in all, the “space” parts of The Space Between Us are pretty good, and the performances are great; a shame, however, about everything else. Lovesick teenagers might find this a nice film to hold hands to, but otherwise, there’s little here that can’t be found in other, better films. An interstellar romance that is sadly less than stellar.
The Space Between Us
Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino