FILM REVIEW – THE SPACE BETWEEN US. With Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino, Gary Oldman, BD Wong. Written by Allan Loeb. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language. 120 minutes.
Although THE SPACE BETWEEN US is an original screenplay, you can see how it might have started as a YA (young adult) novel, with its two leads being teenagers on the run from adult authority. However, this is no “Hunger Games” dystopia, but a near-future world in which the adults are trying to save the life of one of the runaways whose very history means he’s on borrowed time.
The intriguing premise is that en route to Mars for what will be the first effort at setting up a permanent settlement there–amusingly dubbed “East Texas”–the commander of the mission discovers she is pregnant. She doesn’t survive the delivery, and so NASA now has a problem. The baby largely developed in little to no gravity and, as a result, his bones and organs have adapted in a way that makes it unlikely he could survive back on Earth. They decide to keep his existence a secret.
Sixteen years later, young Gardner (child actor Asa Butterfield, maturing into a sensitive teen role) gets the opportunity to go to Earth. He wants to meet the teen girl nicknamed Tulsa (Britt Robertson) with whom he chats online without revealing his actual location, and he wants to find his father. Breaking out of quarantine, Garner finds Tulsa and soon they’re on the run trying to solve the mystery of who his father is while staying one step ahead of mission leader Dr. Shepherd (Gary Oldman) and returned astronaut Kendra (Carla Gugino), who has been a surrogate mother for him on Mars.
The script is sloppy in places. We see Gardner and Tulsa communicate between planets in real time, a physical impossibility given the distances involved, and how they connected in the first place is never really explained. Easier to take is why they connect: she’s been in and out of foster homes and has no friends and he’s been isolated on Mars his entire life with a handful of adults. She’s seeking honesty–which she has had all too little of in her life–while he is guileless. Except for keeping secret his Martian life until they finally meet in person, he’s completely open.
Their adolescent awkwardness with each other works as Gardner tries to adapt to Earth and she tries to figure out if he’s for real or not. It remains to be seen if Butterfield will make a successful transition to adult roles, but he seems to be on his way having progressed from “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to “Hugo” to last year’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” He’s all arms and legs here due to his character’s low gravity upbringing, but when he tries to be “chivalrous” (following cues from a 1950s film about dating he presumably found on the Internet) he comes across as utterly sincere.
The trick for a film like is in the women’s roles and not reducing them to simply the characters the challenged hero needs to meet. Robertson is raw-edged as Tulsa and has to go through her own maturing transformation if the story is to work. Gugino has what could have been an even more thankless role, and makes it into something more. She’s not merely the adult Gardner latched onto on Mars, but has her own needs and regrets that dovetail nicely with the other characters.
You may think you know where the story is going and you’re probably right, but the film stops a scene short of where it ought to, hinting at the resolution we’re expecting but not giving it to us. Still, “The Space Between Us” is a touching teenage love story about a couple literally from two worlds, and with Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, a fitting date night at the movies.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.