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Family Movie Review: The Space Between Us (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 120 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This film about a boy who is born on Mars and dreams of a life on Earth is full of frustrating gender stereotypes: a woman who becomes pregnant is called “irresponsible” and her pregnancy a “mistake,” with no blame discussed for the father of the child; a teenage boy lies to a girl he likes and belittles her beliefs, but they start a relationship anyway; a teen romance with some kissing and an implied sex scene; teens steal and lie; a foster father is depicted as a hopeless drunk; and a subplot about the boy’s health, with a surgery scene and a prevailing threat of death.

‘The Space Between Us’ is basically 12-year-old-boy wish fulfillment, in every clichéd, frustrating way. Men act irresponsibly and women are around to clean up their messes in this horrendously forgettable teen romance pretending to be a sci-fi movie.

By Roxana Hadadi

TheSpaceBetweenUs ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewIt’s difficult to determine the point of “The Space Between Us.” The film has so many plot holes, so many logical inconsistencies, and so many terrible characters that watching it is a particular kind of aggressively unyielding tedium.

Similar to last year’s “Passengers,” this is a “sci-fi” movie with practically no interest in science. Instead, this is a narrative about unworthy, duplicitous men ending up with intelligent, self-hating women and pretending it’s “love.” Young female viewers—weirdly the targeted demo for this movie, even though the plot seems to have been envisioned by a 12-year-old boy with aspirations of space grandeur—deserve better than stories where their entire identities are obliterated by guys who are so blandly, insidiously nice that they fall into bed, no questions asked.

“The Space Between Us” tells the story of 16-year-old Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield, of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”) who was born on Mars; his mother, lead astronaut Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery, of “Black Swan”) was part of a groundbreaking mission to East Texas, a development on Mars that was supposed to explore whether the planet could support long-term human life.

When it was determined that she was pregnant, two months en route to Mars, the Genesis Space Technologies company led by visionary Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), quick to criticize Sarah for behaving “irresponsibly,” decide to keep the pregnancy to themselves so that the PR whirlwind doesn’t tank the mission. When Sarah dies in childbirth, Gardner is kept a secret, raised by scientists on Mars and aware that no one on Earth knows about him; back on Earth, Nathaniel withdraws from public view. “Keeping this a secret saves the company,” but it makes Gardner feel unloved and unwanted, desperate to escape Mars for a different life.

He’s so unhappy that astronaut Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino, of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) encourages Nathaniel to let him come to Earth, even though his body, acclimated to life on Mars, may not survive the trip. But when Gardner arrives on Earth, everything goes upside down—Nathaniel wants to observe him; Kendra wants him to have a normal life; and all Gardner wants to do is find his online chat buddy, Tulsa (Britt Robertson, of “A Dog’s Purpose”), who he has crushed on from afar. He has a favor to ask of Tulsa, and he wants to let her know his feelings, too—although when she refuses to believe that he’s actually from Mars, things get even more complicated for everyone involved.

“The Space Between Us” progresses like a movie that was clearly rewritten and rearranged, with glaring plot holes: How did East Texas have a labor-and-delivery suite ready when there was absolutely no expectation that anyone would ever be pregnant on Mars? There are cameras all over East Texas; how did no one spot a random boy growing up on the settlement for more than a decade? Aside from the logical inconsistencies, there is a conclusion that feels particularly tacked-on and various scenes throughout that are supposed to be charming and whimsical but are really just infuriating.

What’s most confusing is how the film treats Gardner like he’s an alien, unfamiliar with human customs and niceties, but also shows that he was raised by brilliant scientists; had access to the Internet and tons of videos, movies, and other information about Earth; and is a hacker and a genius. Why does he act like a weirdo on Earth when he’s had a totally human upbringing? It’s to garner sympathy for Gardner, but it feels completely unwarranted, just a way to maintain the film’s understanding of its male characters while shortchanging its females.

When Gardner meets Tulsa is when the film truly swerves into “please, make it stop” territory. The pair has all kinds of irritatingly meet-cute moments—she steals a car for him; he eats a cheeseburger and gets mayo all over his face; they trespass on a Native American reservation; they frolic through a Sam’s Club!—during which he constantly undermines her feelings about life and human beings. It doesn’t matter that Tulsa was abandoned by her family and ignored by everyone who took her in because Gardner tells her she’s beautiful, and isn’t that enough? There’s no mention of how Tulsa is equally as smart as Gardner, with as much potential as him—he sees her in a dress, and he makes her feel pretty, and suddenly they’re in love. The speed with which he totally rewrites her identity to fit his own needs is one of the worst parts of “The Space Between Us.”

There’s tons of other bad stuff, too, but really at its heart this is a film that doesn’t understand women aside from assistants and accessories to men. The aforementioned Tulsa, whose own dreams and aspirations are set aside once a bratty 16-year-old boy shows interest in her. Gardner’s mother Sarah, a lead astronaut, is nothing more than a plot device; it’s galling how the film treats her. And the skilled, competent Kendra’s only responsibility is serving as a mother figure to Gardner, one whom he disrespects constantly. “The Space Between Us” undercuts its female characters again and again in its attempts to show its male figures as tragic, misunderstood, and heroic, and what results is a misguided, self-important movie unworthy of your attention.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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