'The Space Between Us' Review: A Sci-Fi Rom-Com Worth a Thousand Questions
By John Boone
Men may be from Mars, but women are still from Earth in The Space Between Us, a movie that's part intergalactic rom-com, part road trip movie...and part science fiction film and thriller and melodrama. Maybe a few more. It's hard to keep count.
Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is literally a Martian -- the first human baby born in Mar's first permanent colony, called East Texas. At 16, he's just as angsty as any teen -- albeit one experiencing puberty on a red rock hundreds of millions of miles away -- and after he falls for earthling Tulsa (Britt Robertson), no amount of space can keep them apart.
That's a very cursory summary of what is going on in The Space Between Us, because there is A LOT going on in The Space Between Us. And each unfolding of plot left me with about a million questions. Like, Gardner winds up being born on Mars because his mother, NASA's 34-years-young lead astronaut on the mission, learns she's pregnant aboard the spaceship two months into their voyage. But, can you conceive in zero gravity? How else did no one at NASA notice she was pregnant during a final pre-launch check-up? Did she get knocked up the night before she left? And does every astronaut also know how to just scrub in and deliver a baby? (Though they don't do it well, really, 'cause she dies.)
And then Gardner is video chatting with Tulsa -- an orphan who wears aviators and rides a motorcycle and says things like, "Everybody's always frontin'. Nobody's ever real." -- and I am asking, How did these two even connect in the first place? A random friend request on intergalactic Facebook? Did he slide into her DMs? Kik? (Do teens still use Kik?) Why, if the NASA is so closely monitoring him, does he seemingly have unrestricted and unmonitored Internet access? And since he does have Internet access, why does he learn "courting" from videos from the '50s, like he's Wall-E or something? Why does he ask, "How am I supposed to act on Earth? With the people?" How you act with every other person you already know, Gardner! You weren't actually raised by aliens!
Butterfield (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) is sweet as Gardner, playing him as angsty but not a shit. He is polite and loving to his surrogate Mars mother (Carla Gugino) -- the type of teenager I like to see in movies. Robertson (Tomorrowland) pops onscreen, as she always does, a reminder that she is a very good actress who deserves more attention than she gets. The Space Between Us is at its best when it allows them to play up the high school fish-out-of-water dynamic. It is at its worst when Gary Oldman is arguing with NASA suits about PR.
In fairness, the movie does ultimately answer some of my lingering questions...right before taking one of the weirdest, arguably most senseless, debatably squickiest twists, leading to an ending that'll be hard to top in terms of sheer insanity. Suffice it to say, I have questions.