The Space Between Us (2017) (Review)

Sci-fi has been an interesting genre of late because, aside from your standard Star Wars and Star Trek franchise entries (neither of which appeal to me), it is so massively varied. You've had the likes of Arrival, Passengers, Morgan, Midnight Special and Independence Day: Resurgence in the past year alone landing in completely different areas of the quality spectrum. It's a genre greatly defined by peaks and troughs. Where does The Space Between Us, a teenage coming-of-age romance film directed by Peter Chelsom - with an obvious serving of science fiction - register on this list?

Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children) is an unexpected passenger on a mission from Earth to Mars, spearheaded by Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). Having spent his whole life on the red planet, his only real friendship is formed online with a girl from Earth called Tulsa (Britt Robertson). He escapes the care of Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino) during a return from Mars to meet Tulsa, who must try to track him down when they discover that his organs cannot survive in Earth's atmosphere.

The Space Between Us begins on a positive footing with a solid first act that sets up an intriguing moral dilemma and gripping premise. Asa Butterfield delivers a consistently solid performance of a 16 year-old yet to take a single step on Earth, showing yet again that he is one of Hollywood's most promising young talents. He's naivety shines in this likeable and acute performance, as he considers the limitations of his characters' condition and ends up elevating the film on more than a few occasions. As a character story about a boy adapting to new pressures and environments, The Space Between Us works on a B-movie level status rather well, with genuinely touching moments contained within the film's first stretch; there is something really delightful, in a absolutely cheesy and corny way, about the first act as it races by in a starry blur. Within minutes I had allowed my initial cynicism to bypass and began really engaging with the piece; but then the film touches down on Earth and everything begins to crumble...

Absurdity creeps in, cliches and stereotypes are ramped up to the max and the dialogue becomes laughable in all the wrong places. Any charm is smothered in the Earth's atmosphere and the premise is fumbled into what translates into an inexplicable, irredeemable Nicholas Sparks adaptation. While Butterfield and Carla Gugino remain solid, the majority of the performances are misguided, particularly Robertson's, who overplays every action and could do with learning the definition of the word 'subtlety'. The dialogue particularly during the third act, written by Allan Lobe from a story by Steward Schill, Richard Lewis and Loeb, becomes really quite terrible and manages to notch up an impressive number of eye-rolls per minute. And let's not mention that final plot twist - which brings about a notion I had considered before quickly dismissing it for being beyond the realms of preposterousness I thought could even exist in this slice of ludicrous teen sci-fi - other than to say it is really quite despairing. The Space Between Us throws every single trope, convention and formula at the wall and seems gleeful in doing so.

What started as proposing some interesting moral questions to consider ultimately shies away from saying or doing anything meaningful, plumping for overwhelming with odious amounts of sickly sugar than anything more substantial. Saccharine, its romance never feels fully-fleshed out, mainly because Robertson's character is so stereotypical of the 'angry teen' that we can never buy into her falling for this guileless boy from space. Despite Butterfield's best efforts (and hers admittedly, when she finally drops the overstated acting for something a little more natural), their romance is not one to be believed and, considering the entire film hinges on our immersion in these lovers, fails. While you must understand that this is never envisioned as being a truly solid piece of science-fiction, some of the plot holes are so glaring that it's a struggle to overcome them and you are left having to accept them because, quite frankly, they are going to be pushed into a space vacuum, as it is the love story that comes above all else (according to the writers, anyway). Damning to The Space Between Us is that this is reminiscent of countless other coming-of-age rom-coms to come before it, most of which are usually executed with far more emotion and feeling.

In regards to my earlier question, it's really rather low on the sci-fi spectrum. The Space Between Us winds up in a place I really rather disdain, after being lulled into a false sense of security so early on by believing that, just maybe, this film may not be as bad as people have suggested. It is shot in a lovely, if unspectacular, way that makes this a really attractive package that contains a lot of style but embarrassing, botched substance. It's an incredibly manipulative product that feels almost squarely aimed at those consider themselves too old to see Sing but too young to appreciate the Award season releases; that demographic deserves more than this. It's The Fault In Our Stars In Space but with less tears and extra helpings of cringe. It's structure is as unbalanced as the quality of its performances and demonstrates Hollywood film-making at its most blasé. The space between where this film begins and where it ends is staggering and results in a completely frustrating cinematic experience.


Summary: The Space Between Us breaks the record for highest number of eye-rolls per minute in a film, delivering a coming-of-age romance set in space that deteriorates at the same pace as the main protagonist as soon as he touches down on Earth.

Highlight: The final act has some really stunning locations and camera work - it's just a shame everything else about it is so shoddy.