For all of those of us who had pen pals in elementary school and those of us who have used a chat roulette, The Space Between Us is the film that brings these two together and pretends like it wouldn’t be terrible.
Spoiler: it is.
Directed by Peter Chelsom, The Space Between Us tells the story of Gardner Elliot, a boy who is born during Earth’s first attempt to colonize Mars. During the birth, complications occur and Gardner’s mother dies, he is left parentless and stranded on Mars. 16 years later Gardner starts talking with a girl from Earth named Tulsa via some sort of Skype. Only having met 14 people in his life, Gardner searches for a way to go to Earth and find out who his father is, never having met him. When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, Gardner breaks free from his containment to participate in every activity he was unable to do while on Mars. After scientists discover his body can’t survive on Earth’s unfamiliar atmosphere. A chase begins and Gardner along with Tulsa start on a journey to unravel the mysteries of his past, and whether he belongs on Earth or Mars.
It seems a gift to have a story with such an interesting premise. Interplanetary love is nothing new, and neither is trying to humanize an “alien,” but allowing for a budding romance to occur from so far away will always be some sort of achievement.
However, with all of that said, the film drops the promise of the premise on its head. While the cinematography of space and Western America is visually appealing, it does nothing to support the action happening on screen. When one emotion wants to be conveyed in dialogue, the opposite is given on the screen. Of course, it’s no thanks to the stilted and ghastly writing that accompanies the film.
Asa Butterfirld fails to feign any real sense of surprise as Gardner, and the character’s love for Tulsa doesn’t feel realistic within the context of the story. Within his first physical encounter with Tulsa, played by Britt Robertson, Gardner fails to acknowledge any sort of human emotion besides shock. There’s no teenage wonder or jealousy or fear, there’s nothing between them, and the saddest part of it all is that the movie knows it, too.
Also, what Gary Oldman is doing in this film is something I will never fathom. Belonging to a generation of truly solid film actors and having credits such as The Dark Knight trilogy and Harry Potter to his name, it’s a wonder how he signed his name off on the final product. It’s one thing to assume that he’s in the film to collect a check, but there’s a clear intentionality to his acting here. He seems like he’s trying to hold the film up with his own two arms, but all it’s turning out as is overacting and a pretty annoying performance throughout.
What starts out as a charming little study of relationships, soon trips over itself into another cog in the ever expanding selection of young adult fictional romances. The story lays a whole slew of interesting possible interplanetary relationship topics or possibilities that the audience wants to consider a little more closely, but that the film never really explores. When the audience isn’t forced to sit with two extremely boring characters, The Space Between Us uses dialogue to push a mainly stale story to a dreadfully clichéd ending that the audience is well aware of before anywhere near the conclusion of the film. What did we expect?