By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
As far as teen romance movies go, this one, which incorporates a prominent sci fi element, is sweet, often adorable and has a lot of heart. Now, regarding the science fiction portion of the film, that’s where things get a tad silly, and the melodrama that takes place too often gets pretty ridiculous. This somewhat messy, but nevertheless charming movie, will mostly appeal to a teen audience, and the filmmakers behind it obviously have this demographic as their main target. However, serious science fiction fans and adults not all that interested in teen love stories should probably steer clear. There is a very definite space between the intended demographic and other types of audiences, a space known as a generation gap.
Teenager Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) lives where other people only have dreamed of visiting. Born and raised on Mars, the young man has never been to Earth. Years ago, his mother Sarah (Janet Montgomery) led humanity’s first mission to Mars, but discovered her pregnancy during the trip. A public relations nightmare, Gardner must remain on Mars, as the world doesn’t know he exists and also because of the fact that his body is only acclimated to the gravity on Mars. In order for Gardner to travel to Earth, he requires a risky surgery to prepare his body for Earth’s gravity. Given the opportunity to finally visit his parents’ home planet, Gardner takes advantage of the moment to meet a young lady (Britt Robertson) with whom he has been communicating online, and desides to seek out the father he has never met.
Written by Alan Loeb, Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis, and directed by Peter Chelsom, The Space Between Us does entertain and has it poignant moments, but also has its share of laughable and nettlesome ones. The film has some unnecessary dramatic elements which come across as tacked on in vain attempts to make things more tense and suspenseful. The film also has a failed element of surprise which I found pretty obvious and transparent from the beginning. The romance and the fish out of water humor works well, but that is mostly due to the earnest performances and charisma and chemistry by actors Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson.
Butterfield offers a tremendous performance as the frustrated and awkward human who feels trapped on Mars and longs to experience all of the wonders that Earth has to offer, including love. Robertson stars as Gardner’s love interest Tulsa, an orphaned teen with whom he becomes enamored and hopes to meet once he arrives on Earth. Robertson brings a tough, but likable, streetwise attitude to the character, but also brings to Tulsa a touching vulnerability that makes the character more credible. The movie also stars Carla Gugino as Kendra, an astronaut resident of Mars who serves as Gardner’s chaperone.
Gugino’s character development is somewhat limited, but Gugino still performs well despite the limitations of the writing. The film also features Gary Oldman who performs as Nathaniel Shepherd, the wealthy genius responsible for the Mars mission. Oldman has some great moments in the film, but also has some scenes where he overacts a bit. The character really is a cliche typical in stories such as this one, but I suppose that Oldman does his best, though he overdoes it in some moments. Oldman has the ability to elicit genuine emotions through his characters, but this particular character just lacks the proper writing for the actor to develop it further.
The writing is not just the issue with character development, but it is also the key problem with the movie as a whole. The limitations and flaws make it more difficult for the directors and cast to completely sell the fantasy they promise. The romance works well enough to charm teen audiences and big-hearted adults, but the rest of the movie unnecessarily weighs things down and fails to make the love story work within a science fiction setting. This film is definitely a reluctant recommendation for a teen date night, and a definite miss for everyone else.