Science fiction meets young adult romance in the mostly forgettable The Space Between Us. The film has an interesting premise, but suffers from poor direction and a meandering script. Its one saving grace is the aw shucks sweetness of the lead actors. Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson capture the wistfulness of teenage love. I'm no starry-eyed kid, but even my jaded heart found it a tad syrupy sweet. One thing is for sure, from Hugo to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, to this film, Butterfield has the awkward kid down pat.
The Space Between Us begins with a corporation setting up the first human colony on Mars. Project leader Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman) launches his astronauts into space with much fanfare. The voyage to the red planet has a whopping surprise when the mission leader (Janet Montgomery) discovers she is pregnant. Born on Mars, Gardner Elliot's existence (Asa Butterfield) is kept a secret.
Gardner grows up in the colony under the tutelage of Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino). What the adults don't know is that Gardner has been communicating with a rambunctious girl, Tulsa (Britt Robertson), on Earth. His story is that of a lonely rich kid in New York. Unforeseen events forces the company to fly Gardner back, but he refuses to be their guinea pig. Gardner escapes and makes a bee line for his sweetheart. Together they try to find the mystery of his father. Dodging the company trackers, Kendra, and Nathaniel; Tulsa teaches him what it's like to be human.
The idea of this film is creative and has merit. A human born in Mars gravity would have to physically acclimate to life on Earth. But that pales in comparison to the difficulty of understanding human interaction. Gardner bumbles his way through awkward social circumstances repeatedly throughout. It's initially funny, but then becomes forced. A Martian teen smart enough to hack computers would probably be watching and listening to pop culture entertainment. Gardner should not have been so clueless dealing with people.
One of the primary flaws in The Space Between Us is smart people acting foolishly. Gardner and Tulsa, teenagers, are one step ahead of the adults at every turn. This is laughable when you consider the resources and power of the company depicted. Also, the mystery of his parentage doesn't need Sherlock Holmes to figure out. It's blatantly obvious from go who Gardner's father is. Then you have to watch them bumble around to discover something the audience is already aware of. It strains believability, more so than the science fiction elements of the story.
Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson pull off the sappy teenage romance. It's the classic nerd and rebel love story. The whole thing is utterly contrived, but I found it heartwarming. This is another flaw in the script. The scientists shouldn't need to do much thinking to figure out what a teenage boy would be interested in. Drumroll please, teenage girl. If you can set up a colony on Mars, but have a hard time understanding pubescent hormones; your colony may be doomed.
From STX Entertainment, The Space Between Us needed a better script and tighter direction. It works as a romance, better than the love triangles of The Hunger Games and Divergent series. Those films are much darker with an overall dystopia theme. Here, Gardner's exploration of human life is the draw; from the beautiful diversity of this wondrous world to the incalculable chemistry of love. The film just needed to do this better. It had a good enough cast. I also didn't like the ending. Just as in the father's identity, it's way too predictable.