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The Space Between Us

“Just because something sounds crazy doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Dear Allan Loeb,

Hi there. My name is Will Ashton. We haven’t met, and I don’t expect you to know me. But I wanted to reach out to you, if only because I have something to say. I hope you take the time to hear me.

I’m sure you’re a lovely guy. Honestly. Based on your resume, you’re a versatile, hard-working individual, with a variety of distinct projects associated with your name these past ten years. You’ve worked with talented filmmakers like Oliver Stone, Susanne Bier and Ron Howard, to name a few, and that’s without mentioning the extraordinary line-up of incredible actors who’ve said your lines! That’s an incredible feat, and you should be proud of your accomplishments. You are among the most prolific screenwriters working in Hollywood right now. No lie. But I gotta level with you, man….

Alright, so here’s the deal: I’ve seen most of your movies. I missed a few of them over the years, I’ll admit — like The Switch and So Undercover, for instance — but I’ve pretty sure I’ve seen the rest, including last year’s Collateral Beauty and, most recently, this weekend’s The Space Between Us. You strike me as a deep-thinking individual with some big ideas in your noggin. Both of these recent movies reach for high-minded ideas on our questionable existence and its futility. They dip their toe into different genres, but, for the most part, they’re fairly grounded in their fantastical whimsy — and that comes from you. In theory, I think the bare outline of your past two films could honestly work, depending on their varied approach. But here’s the problem, and this is where you come in…

When it comes to plotting, these movies are atrocious. With Collateral Beauty, you turned the good-hearted Christmas Carol-esque fable of a broken man coming to terms with death, time and love in the face of great loss into a sleazy attempt for an executive’s high-level employees/closest friends to stab their most trusted ally in the back for their own profit by selling his company and fucking with his fragile mental state. Though I wasn’t quite as harsh on the film as a few other critics were (even though Vulture notes otherwise…), I’ll be perfectly honest: that’s a pretty problematic plotline, and that’s without really digging into some of the worst aspects of that very movie. Now, you’ve got The Space Between Us — which isn’t nearly as unintentionally (?) offensive as your last one was, but it’s all kinds of dumb when it comes to a fairly interesting sci-fi premise. Let me explain, please…

You follow Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman), a genius NASA engineer mastermind who seeks to colonize Mars in the wake of global crisis. Sending a group of trusted astronauts on a four-year-plus exposition to live on the red planet, led by Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), it’s a mission built on exploring the unknown in the face of great danger, and thankfully the mission is a success. But the unknown contains more surprises than Nathaniel initially predicted, and not in the way he expected. After two whole months in zero gravity, Sarah discovers a troublesome truth: she’s pregnant. On Mars! Faced with an unforeseen situation, Nathaniel and his team decide to leave the child alive in this strange terrain, and they don’t tell the media anything. Things only get more complicated when, seven months later, the pregnancy is a success but Sarah’s life is cut short due to complications with the birth. The first baby is born on Mars, just as the dried planet takes another life in the process.

That’s kinda poetic, I must admit. I admire that about you. But don’t get cocky. This is where The Space Between Us really goes off-the-rails into confused convolution. We jump 16 years. Nathaniel disappeared from the program he founded, while the unexpected space child — named Gardener (Asa Butterfield), for whatever reason on your part — is an angsty teen living on Mars. He’s brilliant, of course, but he’s lonely and depressed. His only companions are Centaur, a robot with “feelings,” and Kendra (Carla Gugino), a wise-cracking astronaut and parental figure in light of Sarah’s passing. Frustrated and confused, Gardener’s only companion hear his age is Tulsa (Britt Roberson), an embittered teenager who IMs Gardener during Chemistry. How did they first get in contact? You don’t tell us. How does one get a stable Internet connection on Mars? Who knows? But no matter. As these two misfit youngsters build a kindred bond, it’s clear there’s an attraction. But oh, such is the tragedy you have woven. They are lovers on two separate planets. Again, poetry.

Due to the irregular living sustainability on Mars, everyone knows Gardener needs to take the next trip back to Earth under Kendra’s care. NASA will perform some studies, field various questions and generate needed information about this unusual human, then they’ll shoot him back into space. Gardener can’t sustain himself on Earth for long. But the pesky teen has different plans. Teenagers, amirite? He’ll use this newfound blue planet opportunity to escape the clutches of NASA, where Nathaniel returns to meet the mysterious child born next to the stars, to connect with Tulsa and get acquainted with the long-lost dad he never met, whom he only knows from a single photograph. Here’s where I stop myself from rambling about your long-winded plot and delve into my problems.

Granted, I didn’t read your screenplay. I won’t suggest otherwise. Perhaps some of these issues aren’t your fault. Maybe I should cast my blame towards director Peter Chelsom. In all fairness, it wasn’t the wisest move in the world (or on Mars, for that matter) to give this one to the filmmaker behind Hannah Montana: The Movie and Town & Country. But let’s not play the blame game. Like Collateral Beauty, I think you wrote a decent outline for a compelling film. It’s basically The Martian for lovesick tweens, but it’s fairly unique and it’s kinda, almost charming, if in a silly way. It sounds like a YA book written for the post-Twilight crowd, and I’m honestly a little disappointed it’s not.

The Space Between Us is filled with heavy exposition and overcooked plotting, but if you sat down and planned this one out more accordingly, you could make a strange, but possibly endearing little love story. There’s something about it that makes more sense in book form than as a feature. Maybe I’m alone in that line of thinking. Sure, the studio paid you more money to write it as a screenplay, and you could do it with less words/time. I don’t blame your decision. After all, you’re an experienced screenwriter with no novels to your name (as far as I know, at least). Do what you know, right?

Wrong. The Space Between Us is clunky, preposterous, overdone, poorly explained and mostly dull in its present execution. There are so many stunningly bloated and half-baked plotlines throughout this movie that my brain was throbbing with unanswered questions. That’s not a compliment. Trying to wrap one’s head around all these illogical conclusions requires some serious mental gymnastics, and it’s straining. Much of this weird movie fails to comply. I felt like I was short circuiting a majority of the time. What little does make sense isn’t nearly interesting or compelling enough to work on its own. I could write down all the questions that filled my head during this screening, but I doubt it will do either of us any good. This letter is going long as it is, and because it’s open, I don’t want to delve into spoilers for those who also decide to read what I wrote to you. I’ll try to keep it short.

Similar to Collateral Beauty, the actors involved in The Space Between Us all do their darndest to work around the goofiness of your material. Oldman, as per usual, is pretty good. He gives a much-needed weight and sense of urgency, and that compliments the film. Additionally, Robertson is always fun when she plays a spunky rebel rouser, even if her role is fairly underwritten for the 26-year-old actress who is still playing 15-16-year-olds. But I digress. Gugino and BD Wong are also rather underwritten, but they both do fine enough work. Even Butterfield gets some enjoyable moments upon landing on Earth, letting the fish-out-of-water (or human-out-of-Mars) comedy work well against his normally stiff demeanor. They’re all professionals and do what they can with what you’ve given them, but they can’t make the absolute ridiculous third act you conceived work.

You seem to have trouble with endings, I’ve noticed. It’s okay. You’re not alone. I mean, look how long this letter is getting? I feel like you’re a screenwriter who comes up with dynamic pitches that can’t quite live up to their full potential. That’s what concerns me most as I write to you this cold, lonely night. Not because I’m doubting your writing talents, but because I’m afraid it’ll do a lot of harm to your career future. I don’t think you want to go back to writing Adam Sandler comedies. You probably want to branch out to bigger, better things. I understand that, and I want to see you produce a script that lives up to your idealism. Seriously. But you either need to get a writing partner or find yourself a stern editor because something is terribly askew here. It’s time for some change.

While The Space Between Us is messy and amiss, it’s not a complete failure. At least, not to me. There’s some gorgeous cinematography and there’s a couple cool futuristic designs here (side note: I still have no clue what time period this movie is supposed to take place within, but I’m guessing that’s kinda the point or whatever). While your movies tend to go schmaltzy like there’s no tomorrow, I sometimes admire your unabashed sincerity for your misguided characters. I believe you care for them (well, at least, some of them), and I do think you want to expand your horizons in curious, explorative ways — not unlike your main character here. But as someone who wants you to fulfill your potential, you gotta iron out your writing problems. It’s getting out of hand, man. I’m worried.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. You’re credited with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Dilemma, Rock of Ages, 21 and Here Comes the Boom, in addition to the films mentioned above. You need to get your affairs in order. Something ain’t right, and I think there’s still time to turn your misfortunes around. Don’t read this letter in vain. I didn’t write it in that manner. I’m just a stranger giving you some tough love. Take the advice or don’t. You’re a millionaire and I’m not. But I did my part here.

But for real, you need to stop with the stupid twists. They’re getting out-of-hand. M. Night Shyamalan is putting you to shame now. Think about that for a moment. Let it sink it. Check yourself, dude.

Sincerely,

Will Ashton

4/10

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Will Ashton is a staff writer for Cut Print Film. He also writes for The Playlist, We Got This Covered and MovieBoozer. He co-hosts the podcast Cinemaholics. One day, he'll become Jack Burton. You wait and see.