The space between this film and perfection is quite vast

The Space Between Us attempts a sci-fi romance

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Britt Robertson and Asa Butterfield in The Space Between Us.
Courtesy of STX Entertainment © 2015 STX Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Space Between Us
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Starring Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino
Rated PG-13
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Watching The Space Between Us is akin to the sitting through an unintelligible lecture. Not quite sure where the logical jumps were, you merely nod and move on, understanding that it would take some work to decipher the mess of notes you scrawled.

Our protagonist Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is a boy born on Mars as a consequence of a failed NASA mission project to colonize the planet. His mother, Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), led the mission team 16 years ago, only to die giving birth to Gardner. The project manager Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) abandons the project and the boy on Mars, only for his decision to haunt him 16 years later, when teenage Gardner is intelligent enough to communicate with Earth and falls in love with an orphaned girl Tulsa. He arrives on Earth, and with Tulsa’s help, they escape--Gardner from NASA facilities, Tulsa from her adoptive father’s house--in search of Gardner’s father.

What sounds like a solid premise on paper translates into a convoluted mess of a film. Even the opening scenes with Sarah Elliot and her mission raise serious questions regarding this NASA’s logic (or lack thereof). Granted, if Shepherd hadn’t sent a pregnant mother into space only to die during childbirth, there would be no premise for a film. But the task of a film with a far-fetched premise is to explain the inconsistencies. This one never does.

Even then, a film can get away with convoluted plot holes through thematic exploration; here again,the film falls short. The audience is left wondering what they were supposed to take away. Was it Tulsa’s distaste of phoniness à la Holden Caulfield? Or was it Gardner’s appreciation of Earth and of being alive to appreciate it? Or perhaps it is Nathaniel’s atonement for his mistakes? Or could it be Sarah Elliot’s courage, a theme repeated multiple times? I couldn’t tell you because these themes never go beyond their clichéd bases, ideas that other films have explored with greater depth and originality.

Butterfield’s Gardner remains likeable as the naive Earth visitor and Tulsa’s love interest, but there is only so much an actor can do with cheesy, unoriginal lines and an inadequate script.Opposite of Butterfield’s Gardner is Robertson’s Tulsa, who is quite a character. Robertson manages to pull off believably being compassionate and enthusiastic while still being cynical. Tulsa is not above stealing and breaking laws to help the two escape and find Gardner’s father. It’s not saying much when I’d argue that Tulsa and Gardner are the highlights of the film. Their character development is predictable and their romance is heavily rushed, but a few scenes of Hollywood feel-good moments have some payoff in the midst of an otherwise unwatchable film. Honorable mention goes to Tulsa’s stolen car and her ability to fly a plane.

I’ve come to expect a certain standard of performances from Butterfield. Albeit type-casted, he has exhibited his versatile talent, from the magical realism of Hugo to the historical drama of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and even the sci-fi adaptation of Ender’s Game. Gardner’s genuine awe of Earth’s natural beauty is quite charming--he dances under the falling rain, he stares longingly at the vast blue sky and oceans, he holds his hands excitedly near a fire for the first time. He even asks everyone he meets, “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” Gardner’s love for Earth’s natural beauty is most apparent when Tulsa and Gardner arrive in Los Angeles: the only thing that Gardner could say was that the flashy streets and skyscrapers at night didn’t feel real. Despite being critical about the film, even I grew appreciative of the Earth we take for granted due to Gardner’s outlook.

Sometimes, you need a film with enough cheese, careless writing, and improbability to get you through the day. This could be what you are looking for. Otherwise, I’d give it a pass.