Director: Peter Chelsom
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, BD Wong

If you thought that The Martian or Interstellar were a little too advanced for your space-obsessed young kid, you may want to take them to see The Space Between Us. I’m already going to assume you saw Hidden Figures as that should be higher on your list of family friendly movies about NASA. For Gardner Elliott (Butterfield) all he knew was living on Mars. He was born on the red planet, as his mother was pregnant with him when she boarded a space mission there. Of course she and NASA didn’t know that at the time. Nathaniel Shepherd (Oldman), the director of the mission, knows it would be too risky to try to bring them back and it would become a PR nightmare if news leaked about it. Shepherd and the rest of NASA keep Gardner’s existence a secret.

Sixteen years pass, and he has become a precocious teen. He’s extremely smart for his age and takes it upon himself to sneak around the station hoping to find answers about his mom. The only contact he has with Earth comes with an online friendship he has with a girl named Tulsa (Robertson). Of course, he can’t admit that he’s stationed on Mars and states he’s sequestered due to a health crisis, which is somewhat true. Garner becomes more and more curious about who his father may be when he finds a photo of his mother standing next to another man. NASA decides to bring him back to Earth despite the risks that gravity could have on his body. Gardner seizes the opportunity when he lands back on Earth by escaping the authorities that are in charge of him including Sheperd and his adoptive mother Kendra (Gugino). He runs away and tracks down Tulsa, and together they set out to find his birth dad. Naturally, they hit a few roadblocks along the way with the NASA crew hot on their trail.

The Space Between Us plays out like a YA novel but without the dystopian end of days setting. It takes place in the near future as we see with the advancements in phones and laptops, but still feels somewhat grounded in current realities with the dusty old cars, diners, and stores that pop up. These are just some of the abundant inconsistencies in the film. It either had a low budget or unclear understanding of what has and hasn’t changed in this near future. In general, there is a very loose approach to the practicalities of two teens out on an adventure. Maybe I shouldn’t expect a movie about a boy from Mars to be completely realistic, but needless to say I shook my head a few times. At one point Tulsa and Gardner have a field day buying supplies at a Sam’s Club with the loose change she has scrounged up. Gardner also apparently knows how to drive fairly well as Tulsa lets him take control of their stolen truck. I don’t think he took driver’s ed courses on Mars.

None of this really matters for its core demographic of pre-teens. The script by Allan Loeb (Collateral Beauty, The Dilemma) has everything in it to cater to their attention span. The beginning is set on Mars which will be interesting for those looking for a cool space exploration story. It then shifts to the appealing idea of running from the authorities. It wouldn’t be complete if a teen love story wasn’t thrown in on top of it. Where do I begin with the budding love story between Tulsa and Gardner? It’s a common trope in these YA stories as teens get giggly over the idea of falling in love for the first time. The target audience won’t care about this fact, but Britt Robertson is far too old to continue playing teen characters. Sure, it’s nothing new to have actors in their late 20s playing teens, but it feels awkward to have her play the love interest opposite Asa Butterfield who is still an actual teenager. Their romance doesn’t sit right knowing that she last played the love interest to Scott Eastwood in the Nicholas Sparks weeper The Longest Ride, which felt more age appropriate. The whole love story could have been taken out. Their relationship could have been just as strong if they just remained committed friends or allies throughout his journey.

The rest of Allan Loeb’s script is mediocre at best. If you saw Collateral Beauty, you may remember the twists he threw in there to tug at the heartstrings. He tries that here with a big reveal in the climax that resulted in an audible groan from me. It’s far too gimmicky for its own good. Plus, there’s no reason for it outside of just wanting to throw a curveball in there for the audience. There is some humor added on top of it all with scenes playing on Gardner unable to understand sarcasm and other standard idioms. He’s also very confused and scared of animals. He has no idea what a dog is and is afraid of a horse that comes strolling down the road. It plays for easy, cheap laughs. As Gardner, Asa Butterfield is trying to make his transition from kid actor (Hugo, Ender’s Game) to finding the appropriate teen/adult roles. He most recently starred as the lead in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Here’s fairly endearing as Gardner, and I can see him having a promising career once he gets through this phase. Gary Oldman doesn’t fare as well as he is overacting like crazy. He treats every moment like it’s an end of the world apocalypse. He hits peak lunatic very early on and has no other level to play.

There are nuggets of potential in The Space Between Us, but it needs more originality and magic behind it. It also needs to play smart with its audience. We’ve seen plenty of YA movies that cater toward that demographic but also know how to drawn in everyone else in between. It takes the easy way out too many times and can’t decide if it’s a futuristic story, a father/son story, or a love story. Instead of telling just one of these stories really well, it skims by making all of them a bit generic.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? I would have loved this when I was 12. Now as an adult, not so much.


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