Main cast: Asa Butterfield (Gardner Elliot), Britt Robertson (Tulsa), Carla Gugino (Kendra Wyndham), Janet Montgomery (Sarah Elliot), BD Wong (Tom Chen), and Gary Oldman (Nathaniel Shepherd)
Director: Peter Chelsom
Boy, there is so much about the romantic sci-fi flick The Space between Us that is illogical or frustratingly contrived, I’m probably better off just telling people to try to suspend their disbelief instead of listing all of these problems. Still, I suppose I should at least bring up a few.
Okay, we begin with Genesis, a company founded by Nathaniel Shepherd, finally getting ready to send some astronauts to the East Texas colony on Mars after decades of research and trials-and-errors. The lead astronaut, Sarah Elliot, somehow manages to avoid having her pregnancy detected during the passels of medical tests that astronauts usually have to take prior to blasting off, so, oops, pregnant. The baby is delivered on Mars, and Sarah dies shortly after popping out the brat, probably due to shame of forgetting to take precautions during her pre-takeoff boinkfest with the baby’s daddy. So Gardner Elliot becomes the new permanent resident of East Texas, kept a secret by Genesis upon Nathaniel’s insistence.
While this may seem cruel, and Nathaniel uses bad PR as an excuse, there is a good reason for him wanting Gardner to remain on Mars – having been carried to full term in zero gravity, Gardner’s body is not like a typical person on Earth. Zero gravity during the flight to Mars and the lowered gravity on Mars cause his heart to be bigger than usual, and his bones to be lighter and more brittle. The poor kid may not have much of a chance to live on Earth.
But cut to sixteen years later, when Gardner is now a moody teen chaffing about his forced confinement within the perimeters of East Texas. Furthermore, he has embarked on a furtive correspondence with a young lady on Earth, who calls herself Tulsa, and as you can guess, he’s into her. He tells her that he is stuck in a penthouse somewhere, unable to leave due to severe brittle bone disease, but on his part, he wants to go see Earth, to see Tulsa and look for his father. He gets his chance when, on Earth, Tom Chen the current Director of Genesis, badgers Nathaniel to sign off a document that will allow Gardner to undergo some surgeries to strengthen his bones and let him go back to Earth. NASA and the rest of Genesis, you see, have had enough of the secrecy and they want to do the right thing with Gardner.
So Gardner and his mother figure, the astronaut Kendra Wyndham, are among the astronauts coming back from their shift at East Texas. Unfortunately, because both Nathaniel and Kendra choose to treat Gardner like a dumb five-year old, forcing him to keep taking medical test after medical test without bothering to explain why this is necessary, he panics at the assumption that they will send him back to Mars and breaks out of the Genesis medical facility. He decides to seek out Tulsa, and together, they will search for his father. Tulsa is a cynical orphan who has been tossed around several foster homes, and conveniently enough she knows how to wire cars and steal stuff. So off the two teens go, not knowing that Gardner is on borrowed time as Earth’s gravity slowly works its damaging effects on his heart…
Oh boy, where do I even start? How about from the beginning, when you can make a politically incorrect barb about not sending a woman to do a man’s job in space? Seriously, there is no good reason as to why nobody would realize that Sarah is pregnant. Furthermore, given that Nathaniel is the father, it makes him the arsehole scumbag of the century to insist on not recalling the crew, and the worst of all, not telling Gardner that he is the boy’s father even after knowing that the kid is looking for his daddy – this telling Gardner would have cut short the two kids’ road trip. No, he and Kendra have to go on this chase after the two young people instead, or else we won’t have this movie. And ugh to how in the end Nathaniel gets a happy ending with Gardner without even a punch in the face for his arsehold antics. The fact that Gary Oldman plays Nathaniel with some of the most annoying tics ever in the man’s speech and movements makes me really want to do some damage to that character. The points I have kept hidden in the earlier spoiler bar really ruin the whole movie, ensuring that there is no logical way for it to dig itself out of the mess it happily plunges into.
Tulsa doesn’t face any consequences from what is essentially a spree of carjacking and thefts that she embarks on with Gardner. In fact, Tulsa is the best plot device ever. Need an escape route? Why, she can fly a plane! Need a getaway vehicle? She can steal some. Need to lose your virginity? Just paw at her thigh and voila, free honey. Oh, don’t worry, this is true love and there is a happy ending for everyone, so there is no need to stock up on hankies and lighters.
The movie also has some of the corniest and sappiest dialogues ever. Carla Gugino and Gary Oldman can barely pull off these lines, while poor Britt Robertson fails to make any of those drippy and horribly fake lines of hers even a little believable. It’s pure cringe all the day… aside from the fact that Asa Butterfield surprisingly manages to sell me his character very well.
Poor Mr Butterfield is awkward looking enough to make Gardner a believable socially awkward kid whose prior interactions are limited to adult scientists. Gardner learns how to behave like a teen from watching black and white movies, so the horribly cringe-inducing lines coming from him make perfect sense, given the character. I sincerely hope that Mr Butterfield won’t grow up to become a hyperthyroidic version of Elijah Wood – someone whose looks restrict the types of roles he is given and can carry believably – but Gardner Elliot is practically a role created for him. His exuberance at experiencing simple little Earth things that many of us take for granted is believable enough, and I admit that I can’t help but to smile at those scenes. I also feel a bit of lump in my throat when Gardner realizes that he can never live on Earth and resigns himself to the inevitable.
So in a way, while The Space between Us is a mess of a muzak-dripping movie with enough corn to make pellagra fashionable again, the leading young man manages to save it from being a total waste of time. I still won’t recommend it to anyone who is not a teenager, though – wait for it to be available for rental instead.