I am interrupting the regularly scheduled Bad Movies with Brad to issue a dire warning for this Valentine’s Day. Next week, many of you will no doubt be taking your partner of choice out for a nice meal, and afterwards you might decide that you would like to see a movie. Some of you, will surely go see The Lego Batman movie which will be the right choice. Some of you will undoubtedly get dragged into Fifty Shades Darker, may God have mercy on your souls. However some of you out there may be in a couple with someone who is not quite as nerdy as you, and they might want to compromise with you on a movie. Something romantic, but with a little sci-fi twist. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re looking for that, you may be tempted to see The Space Between Us. I assure you, you must not do this. You must not under any circumstances pay full price for this movie. What you must do is go see this for a $5 matinee while no one is in the theatre and make fun of this thing. Loudly. Why? Because this thing is a dumpster filled with Endless Love DVDs doused in rocket fuel and lit on fire.
The Space Between Us is the latest in the current rash of teen love stories that have been trickling out over the past few years since The Fault in Our Stars came out. Teens can’t just have regular relationship problems, they have to be tragic, dramatic, or in this case of this film, filled with enough special effects that the studio executives hope they can get some marvel fans. This movie takes the mediocre awfulness of this kind of movie and distills into pure insanity.
The film opens with Gary Oldman reading a generic letter his character, Nathaniel Shepherd, wrote to the President when he was 12. Shepherd then introduced the crew of the first Mars colonization mission, which he is financing. After he concluded his Ted talk, he introduces the fearless leader of the colony ship crew, Sarah Elliott, who makes an even more generic speech about going to Mars because it’s there and all that. They blast off into space and start making their ways to Mars when Sarah discovers she’s pregnant. After a ridiculous conversation about how “irresponsible” she is Shepherd and his mission control team decide not to scrap the mission and have Sarah deliver the baby on Mars. She delivers a healthy baby boy, and dies of Plot. Shepherd takes this hard and wants to join the next mission to the colony. His team tells him he can’t because he has hydrocephalus and would die trying to go to space. They also decide that they will cover up the baby’s existence, and that the boy will have to live his life on mars as he would insta-crushed by our gravity.
Sixteen years later Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is an awkward teenager whose only friends are a robot, and a girl from Earth named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who is from Colorado. Don’t ask.1 He’s been raised by an astronaut (Carla Gugino) whose mission assignment appears to be ‘substitute mom’. He spends his time telling Tulsa he can never leave his penthouse in New York City because he has brittle bone disease; and sneaking around the space station to find some of his mom’s stuff, including a picture of her a dude, who he believes to be his father. Meanwhile on Earth, Tulsa struggles with how nobody in her life is “real” and “everyone’s just fronting” especially her drunk crop duster foster father, who apparently keeps her only because of the check he gets from the government.
The mission control people pull Gary Oldman out of the plot hole he’s been in for the past sixteen years and inform him that they’re going to bring Gardner back to Earth. Gary (I’d call him Shepherd but I literally never knew his name during this movie.) objects, reminding them that Gardner will be insta crushed, unless they use their super future technology to fill his bones with carbon nanotubes. So they do, and Gardner spends months training to go to Earth. During this, his astronaut mom tells him a story offhandedly about how her ex husband broke up with her because she couldn’t have kids. She tells him it didn’t bother her at the time because she’d never really wanted children. Everyone sets back off to Earth, bringing Gardner back where he’s immediately put into the hospital to avoid because the Earth wants him dead so bad. After a few rounds of tests Gardner decides to run away, steals a janitor’s clothes and escapes. At some point during this, it might be later, he tells his astronaut-not-mom that cause she didn’t want kids she obviously doesn’t love him, so he’s going to find his father.
So he gets on the bus and goes straight to Tulsa’s school. He convinces her to help him find his dad, so they instantly leave and get changed by Gary Oldman’s army of doctors that want to capture him so he doesn’t die. Sooo mean of them. They steal Tulsa’s drunk foster dad’s airplane, then when it crashes they steal a series of cars, and fall in looooove. Gardner gets more and more ill as they make their way across the country, his heart can’t pump properly in our gravity. Though he is in good enough health to have sex with Tulsa in the freezing cold under a sleeping bag in the desert. They manage to track down Gardner’s father to the seaside house in the photograph. They burst in and tell him he’s Gardner’s father. Unfortunately this poor dude is definitely not Gardner’s father but his Uncle. Gardener decides that in this case there is nothing for him on Earth, so he will drown himself in the ocean. Gary Oldman and Astronaut-not-mom arrive just in time to save him, where Gary Oldman admits that he’s Gardner’s father. Gary takes Gardner out of the atmosphere in a space plane, proving that he can survive going into space. He takes Gardner back to Mars. Astronaut-not-mom asks Tulsa to come live with her and train to be an astronaut so she can go be with Gardener. Yaaay.
Between the Lines
Most screenwriters have a certain grasp of how people talk. You can tell when the dialogue sounds natural, when it comes from someone who understands what a human being sounds like. Or at least how the writer wishes human beings sounded. I’m looking at you Tarantino. However as soon as this movie starts playing you see that the entirety of the script is cliches and nonsense.
The trailer makes more sense as a movie than the actual plot does, I went into this thing thinking it would be Gardner falling in love with Tulsa while he was still on Mars and ducking out of the hospital to see her once he got to Earth. That’s what the people who made the trailer thought made sense as a movie. The whole thing makes no sense when he shows up at Tulsa’s school and asks her to help him find his dad. Especially when at this point they’re just video chat friends.This is compounded by the utter insanity of Gary Oldman being Gardner’s father because he just could have told the kid in the first half hour of the movie.
Asa Butterfield’s Gardner Elliot is well performed, certainly. He’s a talented young performer and he does a really great job with what he’s given. However the writers seem to forget constantly that Gardner was raise by NASA scientists, not Martians. For instance, a normal 16 year old would be able to tell that his astronaut-not-mom didn’t want kids when she found out she couldn’t have them, but probably wouldn’t bother taking care of him if she didn’t want to do the job. Instead he assumes she has never loved him. Gardner behaves like he’s never talked to a girl before, despite having a chat room friendship with Tulsa where he obviously operated just fine. Not to mention when he winds up finally having his first kiss and tells Tulsa that he doesn’t know how because he was raised by scientists.
I…I what? WHAT??? The ignorance that scientists are people too and that being stationed on Mars for years at a time they might find a fellow scientist to make out with is completely insane. It is only made more insane by the fact that the main character of the movie is the product of two scientists doing it. You’re telling me not once did Gardner not come upon two lonely geologists in a lab corridor? They also feature Gardner watching movies from the fifties and repeating their lines to try and sound smooth. I know this a problem in all sci fi but you set your damn move 17 years in the future. He could at least be watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Tulsa suffers from her own share of problems too. Britt Robertson tries her very hardest, but there’s only so much she can do when she’s saddled with the corniest lines in the entire film. When Gardner is dying due to an enlarged heart, she’s the one who gets to whisper to him, “You’re dying because your heart’s too big.” That’s so okay, because mine shrunk 3 sizes when I heard that. 2 She’s also the one that gets the big punchline of the movie. Gardner asks just about everyone, “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” and she gets to say, “You, Gardner.” If it were me, that would be after a three hour argument with the director. Then to add insult to injury, she had to say “fronting” unironically.
The director by no means gets off light in this, between him and the studio what could have been a simple sleeper sci-fi movie becomes over burdened with idiotic special effects and consequently, lazy filming. A barn explodes in a ball of fire after a plane runs into it. The future world has fully functional self-driving cars and yet a Sam’s Club looks vintage 2016, as do all the clothes. But this sort of stuff is par for the course. Not to mention once again another staff member is incapable of googling things as the first time Gardner and Tulsa have sex they do so in the desert, at night, with only a sleeping bag. Every sing I saw one of their bare shoulders I was practically screaming “It’s really cold out there you know!”
The movie’s lazy, ridiculous treatment of Gardner’s mother Sarah, is pretty much unforgivable. Watch a room full of mostly men make health decisions for their pregnant mission commander and go off about how she acted “irresponsibly.”
Note that Gary Oldman, the guy who got her pregnant, says nothing throughout the whole scene. Then of course when they decide to deliver the baby on Mars, their advanced space science has still not unlocked the mystical secrets of childbirth and Sarah dies. Childbirth is not that dangerous you guys, that is terrible women’s health right there. And if killing her wasn’t bad enough, it becomes immediately apparent that if you replaced Carla Gugino with the Gardner’s mother none of the plot would have changed. He could still have run off to find Tulsa or his father and everything would have gone exactly the same. Just another victim in the long line of the cinematic quest to kill all mothers.
Between You and Me.
I would really like to give Gary Oldman a Bad Movie Hero award. I would, he’s one of my favorite actors from Rosencrantz to Jean Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg. I think his James Gordon is the best thing about the Dark Knight series. I have the utmost respect for the man. But he does not give a crap about being in this movie. He stumbled out of his trailer, whispered some things at the camera and went back again. He can’t really be considered “trying” in this movie. Though his not trying is better than most actors’ actual performances.
Instead I’d like to propose giving the Bad Movie Hero Award to Britt Robertson for her portrayal of Tulsa, because that was probably the worst part in the film and she managed to see it through. She didn’t quit when she was told that as soon as her character becomes a love interest she must switch into a sundress. She didn’t quit when she saw herself acting next to an extra childlike Asa butterfield which made her seven years she had on him seem like thirty. She didn’t even quit when she had to reveal Tulsa’s embarrassing secret: that she can play piano and writes her own songs. Unfortunately there’s no video so you’ll just have to take my word for it, but Britt Robertson is not a good singer. She doesn’t make windows break or anything, but she wouldn’t make it into middle school choir. And she put up with it all so she could get mediocre pay and some credit on her resume. So good for you Britt Robertson, you can add Bad Movie Hero under awards.
The Space Between Us is currently in theatres, where you should not pay more than five dollars to see and only if you use the money you saved on booze. See Lego Batman instead.