If Men Are From Mars...

The Space Between Us
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Peter Chelsom, Writ. Allan Loeb
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino, Gary Oldman
Britt Robertson and Asa Butterfield star in The Space Between Us.
VVS Films
Interplanetary romance is a claim that few can make, no matter how alien one’s ex-lover might be. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then a relationship between a Martian and an Earthling isn’t too farfetched. There’s less space between the red dot in the sky and the blue one, compared to the red and the yellow.

The Space Between Us redefines the concept of a long-distance relationship as Mars-born teen Gardner Elliot (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield) finds himself head over heels in love with Earthling Tulsa (Britt Robertson, Cake). They have a spark that travels all 401 million miles between them and, ever the love-struck puppy, Gardner aims to bridge the gap. The gallantry is extreme, even by today’s Promposal standards.

The thing with Gardner is that he doesn’t know life on Earth despite being a human. The film begins as Gardner’s mom (Janet Montgomery) discovers that she’s pregnant while leading a mission to Mars. She dies in childbirth, leaving a baby on the red planet and a PR nightmare back on Earth. This dilemma falls on the shoulders of Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman), the bigwig behind the operation, who decides to keep the baby a secret and avoid the likelihood of killing him on re-entry. If the mission is to test the possibility of life on Mars, then Gardner offers fortuitous test tube fruit.

Cut to the awkward puberty years, however, and growing up in space isn’t very fun. Despite the sensitive parenting by space surrogate/Mars Mommy Kendra (Carla Gugino), Gardner yearns to feel gravity and sweep Tulsa off her feet. There’s also the chance of meeting the father he never had.

The Space Between Us alternates between moments of genuine sweetness and outright cheese as Gardner and Tulsa evade Shepard and the space police while searching for Gardner’s missing father. The film stumbles when it puts the lovers on the lam and lets Tulsa (an all-around terribly written character) steal a plane from her deadbeat father (although she’s apparently under care of child services…) to fly the coop. More often than not, the premise of a baby being born in space and making it back to Earth is the least preposterous thing about The Space Between Us.

On the other hand, some scenes, like the young lovers enjoying the romantic whiff of the outdoors atop a cliff in Arizona, use parallels between the natural landscapes of Earth and Mars to surprisingly novel effect. The young actors are at their best when director Peter Chelsom (Hector and the Search for Happiness) lets them play loose and free, like one fun and natural scene in which the pair ad-libs over burgers in the car.

Screenwriter Allan Loeb packs a lot of plot within this teen-targeted romance and while the premise of crossing The Fault in Our Stars with The Martian might sound like reason to hit the ejector seat, the result is surprisingly good. The Space Between Us is a sweet romance about human connection and the little things on Earth that make life grand. The film plays with a running theme that begins when Gardner encounters a homeless man in the desert and asks, “What is your favourite thing about Earth?” The question arises throughout the film with each response offering something small, unique, and meaningful, like the pleasure in feeling the rain wash everything clean, straight through to Gardner’s own confrontation with the inevitable answer to the query.

Butterfield offers a charming lead as Gardner by playing into the character’s innocence and sense of wonder. He also shows off some natural skills for comedy when Gardner visits a high school for the first time. The teen’s in unique territory as a character who discovers life on Earth for the first time and Butterfield handles the physical challenges of the performance well by imbuing Gardner with a bumbly gait to show the awkwardness of discovering gravity. The boy looks like as if he has the wobbly knees of a kid in love.

The Space Between Us opens in theatres Feb. 3.