The Space Between Us: A Sci-Fi Romance for Teens

If The Space Between Us sounds like a sequel to The Fault in Our Stars, it’s purely coincidental. But there is an important similarity: both movies are thought-provoking dramas about star-crossed lovers that will appeal to teens and tweens.

The Space Between Us

2017, PG-13

In this interplanetary adventure, which is set just a couple of years in the future, a manned space rocket embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars. In the shuttle are Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) and five other enterprising astronauts. But there is one more passenger nobody knows about…

This mission has been the dream project of the creator of Genesis Space Tech, Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman), since he was a young boy... the historic journey of his hand-picked astronauts is that much more poignant for him, since health issues prevent him from stratospheric travel. The takeoff starts out great, but the vitals-monitoring machines on the shuttle quickly reveal that Sarah is pregnant. It’s too late to turn back, and she will boldly go where no woman has gone before, giving birth on Mars.

It seems the fetus is developing normally but shortly after giving birth to a healthy baby boy on the red planet, Sarah dies. Her fellow astronauts are distraught. Shepard and his colleagues are devastated. Not only for the loss of life, but also because of the potential PR nightmare’s effects on the future of their crucial mission. So they decide to keep the baby a secret.

Cut to 16 years later, and Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is an inquisitive, highly intelligent young man. Including his appointed mom Kandra (Carla Gugino), Gardner has only met 14 people in his entire life. But thanks to Martian WIFI and his robot companion, Gardner knows there’s a lot more out there.

While searching for clues about the identity of his father and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship and hopeful romance with a street-smart teenage girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). He’s determined to make her the 15th person he meets – but he can’t leave Mars. Well, technically he can, but he’s not supposed to. Not only because he’s a secret kept from Earth, but also because Gardner’s body has fully adapted to the Martian atmosphere. His heart, lungs, and brain wouldn’t fare well on Earth with the impact of gravity; in fact, the sheer weight of it might actually begin to crush undeveloped bones and cause his ticker to pump faster than a human on Earth’s would. But you know Gardner’s going to Earth, don’t you?

Once he arrives on the good old third rock from the sun, the real adventure begins. Eager to find his dad, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins Tulsa in a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where the pair belongs in the universe.

While the scenes set in space are indeed impressive, it’s the human drama and the moments on Earth that strike the strongest chords. Without being sappy, the inevitable romance between Gardner and Tulsa unfolds intelligently and realistically (they do have sex).

There are plenty of illogical and unrealistic moments in the movie, though – everything falls into place far too perfectly and everyone knows just what to say and the science to the sci-fi is missing – but it still feels appropriately cinematic. The Space Between Us is obviously not a docudrama, it’s escapism. Literally. After Gardner escapes from the confines of his upbringing, and while Shepard and Kendra stay in close pursuit, the emotional core of the characters remain intact.

Screenwriter (Allan Loeb) pulled off quite the balancing act – what’s more, the movie is quite long at 2 hours, but never feels drawn out. The score is about what you’d expect in a sci-fi romance (overwrought) for teens (vocal pop songs and musical montages). When it comes to the visual aspect, The Space Between Us is worth seeing on the big screen for its stunning cinematography and luscious locations, which include the desert, mountains, and most prominently, the ocean.

As with most movies, casting is key. Oldman and Gugino are always good, so no surprises there. While I can’t say there was a ton of romantic chemistry between Butterfield and Robertson, they make a good pair. Butterfield is an actor whose work I’ve enjoyed since seeing him as a tyke in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. His blue eyes resonate with wonder as he, alien-like, discovers all that Earth has to offer. His guileless manner is really charming. Gardner’s favorite question, and the tagline of the movie, is: “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” The earnestness with which he asks it is endearing.

Tulsa is tough, having been bounced around the foster care system all her life. In contrast to Gardner, she’s guarded and suspicious of everyone. However, when her shields come down and she lets Gardner have a glimpse of the real Tulsa, Robertson plays it perfectly.

For fans of films like The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and Like Crazy, The Space Between Us fills the bill.

Will you check out The Space Between Us with the family? What are other films you've enjoyed so far this year? Share your favorites with us!

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