The Space Between Us (2017) Movie Review

By: Bill Arceneaux (Five Beers) –

It’s easy for me to find something disagreeable with The Space Between Us, mostly because a lot about it IS disagreeable – with my eyes somewhat, but with my brain absolutely. For the two hour run time of this romantic young adult sci fi-ish exercise in awkwardness, I loudly laughed and rolled my eyes with great effort more times than I can count on both hands. Make no mistake, however: this film treats its story with as much seriousness as it can muster. I don’t believe it was their intent to make me smile in the ways I did.

Against all of their craft and ambition, they DID make me happy in the end. Enough to get beyond mediocrity, but not in the right direction. It happens far too easily.

A Toast

The Space Between Us is a title referencing the distance between a boy from a girl, from his past and from his home. In the film, 16 year old Gardner (Asa Butterfield), is a child born on Mars and kept secret from the public on Earth. Now a teen, he’s given a chance to visit a new world to him, and, with help from the only Earthling he knows, Tulsa (Britt Robertson), will learn of his past, too.

Being the definition of bottomed out trash fiction for tweens, The Space Between Us offers little that we haven’t seen before. Very little. For all of its talk of gravity, the one thing it needed was sure footing on the ground. From there, it wouldn’t miss the sky for the stars. Still, some lofty-esque technique was appreciated. Scenes will often transition from one to another with objects or movements that match logically and thematically, like the curve of a baby bump to the curve of a planet, or a person crying to the waves on the ocean. A little juvenile, on the nose and unearned, but thoughtful.

Asa Butterfield of Ender’s Game shows a streak in him of being one to watch among drivel. The overall direction was very uneven and inconsistent, but Asa’s instincts as an actor held well. There is an earnestness missing in most of the other performances, but found in him, mostly in his expression of curiosity, innocence, and exhaustive searching. When he begins to connect with Tulsa and has a few lovely moments with her, there is an undeniable magic, especially when he looks into her eyes. It’s as if he really means what he’s saying and showing. That goes a long way.

Beer Two

But, not long enough.

Britt Robertson of Tomorrowland has had the misfortune of being cast in some bad productions (this one included), but retains a following that believes she can be a spark. At her best in this movie, she’s lethargically smitten. At her worst, she’s gum-chewingly annoying. Not scene-chewingly, though. That would’ve been interesting. No, she mostly just exudes fast talking-style frustrations and angsty complaining without finding room to breathe or to change and have her icy heart melted. At least, not believably.

Beer Three

What IS something that ALWAYS goes a long way for me is explosions, ESPECIALLY inexplicable ones. When The Space Between Us gets dumb, brother, it’s really dumb. It’s a moment that I certainly didn’t see coming, but gave me a fit of enjoyment all the same. It’s a barn. In the middle of farm country. That blows up. By a crop dusting plane. Flown by Tulsa and Gardner.

It is so mysteriously crazy that it happened the way it did.

Gary Oldman, the man in charge of the space project and the large corporation behind it, is leading the charge in a helicopter, monitoring the young couple by satellite camera feed. When the incident occurs, he lets out the most yawnful “Oh no” type line since Kevin Costner. If he couldn’t get down with some theatrical emotions AT THIS MOMENT, then what does that say?

Beer Four

It’s probably saying that “We don’t care enough”. Not since Suicide Squad (boy, that was a quick turnaround) has a movie used music so much and so inappropriately to mask and make up for its diminished and poor skills elsewhere. Songs of hope and finding yourself, the kind you play when sticking your head out of a car window and feeling the wind, make up the entire soundtrack, and play almost ad nauseum, even and especially when they shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter if characters think something tragic has happened or if a joke is made, Imagine Dragons or some such group will hit anyways.

Why not? Who cares, right?

Beer Five

Ultimately, I don’t think I understand what The Space Between Us was trying to achieve. It’s not a franchise starter. It’s not uplifting and doesn’t teach us to appreciate anything. And it even ends with the easiest of maneuvers: unestablished inner monologue voice over.

What was this? Nihilistically inclined to tell a most familiar yet plotless tale of discovery. Not life changing or arc altering, just additional information. Data. It’s a data delivery.

Verdict

Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is referenced and even has images lifted and used almost literally to contrast the story for those in the crowd too busy being radiated by their phones. I believe it was added to my FilmStruck watchlist because of this reminder. There’s something I can agree with. Easily.

The Space Between Us (2017) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for each instance of Gary Oldman’s bouncing / flowing hair.

Take a Drink: in horror, as Gardner rips apart an A.I. robot.

Do a Shot: with the knowledge that, due to funding issues, the scenario in this movie may not occur for decades – or ever.

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

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