The Space Be­tween Us is truly aw­ful and lovely

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MICK LASALLE

Some­times when a movie seems off, it’s nec­es­sary to con­sider whether we might be off and not the movie. Maybe we’re just used to things be­ing done in a cer­tain way; and when they’re done in a dif­fer­ent way, it seems strange to us. Maybe noth­ing is re­ally wrong but our ex­pec­ta­tions.

In the case of “The Space Be­tween Us,” it’s pos­si­ble to en­ter­tain such con­sid­er­a­tions for about an hour, un­til it be­comes clear. No, this movie is just off. It presents a com­pelling sit­u­a­tion, gen­uinely touch­ing mo­ments and pock­ets of strong act­ing … and di­a­logue that has peo­ple in the au­di­ence turn­ing to each other and laugh­ing be­cause it’s so ab­surd. The tone shifts at will from lofty fan­tasy to down and dirty re­al­ism, which might have been promis­ing — ex­cept the re­al­ism seems faker than the fan­tasy.

In one mo­ment, it makes you care, and in the next it makes you laugh at what you’re sup­posed to be car­ing about. The cam­era is some­times placed so as to catch the ac­tors in the throes of ex­treme emo­tion … but the emo­tions are so ex­treme that the whole en­ter­prise is sud­denly ren­dered coun­ter­feit, and then ridicu­lous and then hi­lar­i­ous. And I sort of liked this movie. It seems only fair to say that.

Of course, like all good things in life, it starts with a mis­sion to cre­ate the first Mar­tian colony. The idea is that the en­vi­ron­ment of the Earth is get­ting dam­aged, so why not go to a planet where there is no air at all? Sure, that makes sense. On the way there —

it takes months — the lone woman on the jour­ney starts throw­ing up a lot. Uh-oh. She’s preg­nant. She gives birth on Mars, dies al­most im­me­di­ately, and so the child grows up, moth­er­less, as the first hu­man be­ing ever born on Mars.

Here’s the in­ter­est­ing thing: Be­cause he ges­tated in a grav­ity-free en­vi­ron­ment, his or­gans and skele­tal sys­tem de­vel­oped in an odd way. He’s suited to Mars and to space travel, but there is a real ques­tion about whether he could ever sur­vive on Earth.

So once again — as in “Pas­sen­gers,” as in “The Mar­tian,” as in David Bowie’s “Space Odd­ity” and El­ton John’s “Rocket Man” — we have space as the ul­ti­mate em­blem of lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion. And once again, it’s ef­fec­tive.

Asa But­ter­field plays the 16-year-old boy, who has grown up in­doors, talk­ing only to ro­bots and to an as­tro­naut (Carla Gug­ino), who serves as a mother fig­ure. Tall and thin with bright blue eyes, he looks frail, earnest and oth­er­worldly. Gard­ner knows noth­ing about Earth, so when his health fi­nally al­lows him to cross the vast space be­tween nowhere and the west­ern United States, we have the fun of see­ing him re­act to things we take for granted as though they were new.

This is all very nice, and there are other things that are nice.

He wants to meet a girl he has spo­ken to on­line, so there’s a young love el­e­ment go­ing on. Like him, she’s a teenager. Un­like him, she’s played by 26-year-old Britt Robert­son, who looks like his babysit­ter. But from his per­spec­tive, that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a prob­lem.

Gary Old­man has a sup­port­ing role as the man who started the Mars pro­gram and is ripped up with guilt at how things turned out for poor Gard­ner.

Through­out the film, Old­man seems so happy to be fi­nally play­ing a de­cent hu­man be­ing that he takes ev­ery act­ing mo­ment and beats it with a club. If the role were sen­sate, it would be scream­ing at the way Old­man flogs it here. About a third of the time, it works; a third of the time it doesn’t; and a third of the time Old­man el­e­vates the whole movie.

In gen­eral, “The Space Be­tween Us” is a lot like that, a mix of OK, truly aw­ful and lovely.

JACK ENGLISH, STX PRO­DUC­TIONS

Britt Robert­son and Asa But­ter­field in “The Space Be­tween Us:” it works a third of the time.

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