Directed By: Peter Chelsom
Written By: Allan Loeb (screenplay), Stewart Schill (story by)
Runtime: 2 hrs
The Space Between Us is a fun, sweet coming of age comedy that spoils its own success by trying to be a drama. The story follows Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a boy born and raised on Mars on his first trip to Earth. Worried that he might not be allowed to stay on Earth, Gardner escapes the NASA compound and journeys across the country to find Tulsa (Britt Robertson) – a girl he met on the internet. Hijinks ensue. Teenage love is kindled. A road trip is had. It’s adorable. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It doesn’t work.
The Space Between Us suffers from dramatic shifts in tone from one scene to the next. The teenagers are in coming of age romantic comedy and the adults are in a family drama. The crossover between the two narratives falls flat constantly. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a wealthy Silicon Valley type, spends most of his time yelling unnecessarily and Kendra (Carla Gugino) was incessantly on the verge of tears or worrying in a motherly fashion. Obvious comedic moments were played detrimentally straight, like when the grownups think they’ve caught up with Tulsa and Gardner but it’s actually two completely different teenagers. That should be a funny moment, but girl (credited very accurately as “screaming girl”) is so terrified when Shepherd accosts her, that any humor is lost.
The script itself was sloppy and full of contradictions with both itself and reality. For instance, we’re told multiple times that Tulsa cannot fly a plane but she can and does. Gardner, whose body is full of metal and magnets, makes it through an MRI unscathed. (I mean, technically this is at least sixteen years in the future, so suspension of disbelief or whatever, but it irked me because science fiction that ignores basic science is bad science fiction. Speaking of which, live-streaming video was viable from Mars to Earth from the moment the first mission touched down, which, yeah right.) There is a completely unnecessary reveal regarding Gardner’s father at the end of the movie. There is an explosion that only exists to use up leftover budget dollars. And so on.
Additionally, The Space Between Us does not deal with race or gender well. The cast leans very heavily in the white and male direction. The shaman character (played by Gil Birmingham) teeters on the edge of a racist stereotype. If the random, stoned white lady who introduces the kids to the shaman is any indication, that scene was probably even more problematic in a previous draft.
As far as gender goes, the movie had an annoying, if average, patriarchal lean. Women are mothers first and foremost. Gardner’s biological mother is only around long enough to give birth and die. Before she dies, though, the audience gets to hear a room of men talk amongst themselves about how “irresponsible” she was and then they decide, without ever looping her in on the conversation, what to do about her pregnancy. Kendra, an astronaut whose primary role is raising Gardner, winds up falling neatly into the stereotype of a woman who regrets putting career first. She and Gardner have a painfully bad conversation about motherhood and marriage.
The strength of this movie is inarguably in the moments between Robertson and Butterfield. Robertson’s performance as a tenderhearted teenager who has learned to be guarded is emotionally charged, relatable, and funny. Butterfield struggles with a script that cannot quite decide if he has social skills or not. Ultimately he prevails as a charming, if kind of weird, kid. The flaws in his character (for example, a tendency to overreact to minor set-backs and an inconsistent level of social skills) are ultimately flaws with the script, not with Butterfield. Both actors breathe life into a below average script.
The movie is also redeemed in its cinematography. In many ways the movie can be seen as a love letter to the natural beauty of earth and the color with which humans surround themselves. Unfortunately, the editing did not live up to the cinematography, which sometimes minimized the visual impact of the movie.
The Space Between Us could have been great. It is beautifully shot, features lovely performances by Robertson and Butterfield, and is a ultimately a feel-good adventure story. It’s just too bad that not everyone who was signed onto the project got that memo.
Have you seen ‘The Space Between Us’? Well, what did you think?