Spaceman

Directed By Johan Renck

Starring – Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano

The Plot – Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka (Sandler) has risen from small-time scientist to become the country’s first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him both the chance at heroism he’s dreamt of, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown. But in so doing, he leaves behind his devoted wife, Lenka (Mulligan), whose love, he realizes too late, he has sacrificed on the altar of his ambitions. Alone in Deep Space, Jakub discovers a possibly imaginary giant alien spider (Dano), who becomes his unlikely companion. Over philosophical conversations about the nature of love, life and death, and the deliciousness of bacon, the pair form an intense and emotional bond. Will it be enough to see Jakub through a clash with secret Russian rivals and return him safely to Earth for a second chance with Lenka?

Rated R for adult language

Spaceman | Official Trailer | Netflix (youtube.com)

POSITIVES

As to where most films set primarily in space are focused with the mission to the galaxies at hand, or the science that stems from such ambitious explorations, “Spaceman” instead is preoccupied with the deconstruction of a devastated marriage on the rocks, with its one crew member aboard ailing from the broken heart of such past regrets. That’s not to say that Renck doesn’t occasionally tap into the science of scenery, mostly in this mysterious purple cloud that hangs overhead like Jakub’s secrets, but rather it’s more of a cautionary tale for the things we take for granted in life, all unconvered by one knowledgable spider, eventually named Hanus. The evolving friendship between Jakub and Hanus is where most of the film’s prominence resides, beginning timidly as strangers, with Jakub frightened of his eight-legged counterpart, before growing into something deeply profound, as a result of the eye-opening urgency that Hanus prescribes to Jakub that allows him to live with his eyes open for the first time. As the film progresses, it’s clear that Jakub figuratively and literally can’t live without this other-worldly alien, fighting back against the overwhelming loneliness that haunts Jakub as a result of the life and career defining decisions that he continuously put first, emphasized wonderfully in the depths of Renck’s coldly claustrophobic corridors, which tonally never feel compromised with the bizarreness of a spider quite literally looking the audience in the eyes at all times. For only his second directing gig, and first in sixteen years, Renck zeroes in on the panic and peril that come to define our journey with Jakub, all the while saving his greatest magic trick for a third act full of emotional resonance that comes in the form of one man quite literally at the crossroads of his life, with uncertainty, regret and longing serving as the compass in his desire to return back home. Jakub is performed exceptionally by Sandler, who despite the limitations in characterization that plague his outline, inflicts no shortage of tender vulnerability or heart to the depiction, cementing a flawed but endearing protagonist whom we come to appreciate, if even just for the way Sandler is able to actually play with emotional versatility for a refreshing change. Dano is also quite remarkable with vocal complexions as this precocious spider, combining peculiarity with uncompromising honesty for an invigorating portrayal that often feels like the necessary shot of adrenaline to the film, each time he crawls into frame. Beyond the performances, the production values are quite improved for a Netflix-helmed project, mainly in the immersive authenticity of the camera movements, and believability of the special effects, which transcended the streaming familiarity that often condemns these films on arrival. Cinematographer Jakob Ihre, the same man who visually conjured the airborne toxicity of a nuclear-torn Chernobyl in the HBO series of the same name, brings so many tangibles in the way he illustrates Jakub’s constant isolated frame of mind, with orbitting motions inside of the ship’s captivity, as well as blurred outlines in lensing effects during flashback sequences, to mimic the black hole of memories that constantly play on repeat to Jakub’s mind and body, which feel millions of miles apart throughout the film. As for those special effects, Hanus’ artificial rendering and The Beginning, this dimension hanging in space that Jakub is traveling to, are both executed with degrees of tangibility and believability that never feel like distractions to the frames they accompany, especially in the dependency in usage of ultraviolet colors and gaseous consistencies during the third act climax, which would’ve looked beautiful when plastered across the big screen in the darkest theater, but are instead left to beneficially influence a streaming product, where they’re definitely appreciated more than they otherwise would be.

NEGATIVES

Netlflix is met halfway with seamless production values and impactful performances that at least bring an audience to the table, but it’s the stagnant and standard consistencies of the script that practically alienate them, leading to a surface level exploration that could’ve and should’ve been bigger than what we were eventually left with. For starters, the film doesn’t have a compelling hook to lure its audience into the conflict of its characters, with one-dimensional characterization and surface level subplots that leave far too much ambition and expectations on the table, where they eventually wither and waste away. This is especially the case for Jakub’s past with his father, but also the devious disconnect between him and Czech intelligence, which is initially illustrated in the secrets that they keep from him and Lanka, before being abandoned all together within the depths of an inferior second half that quickly forgets about it. I say inferior because not only is the urgency in pacing less defined with a thirty-minute section of the film that quite literally stalls the plot’s progression, but the lessons attained by the knowledgable Hanus doesn’t require any kind of deeper and spirited discussion to materialize their profound sentiments, undercutting and altering the exploration in ways that make Jakub and Lanka’s conflict feel easily resolving, and therefore undermining the extent of their issues, which definitely make it feel like two people who rightfully shouldn’t be together. In addition, the dialogue is marred by clunkily pretentious dialogue, particularly in the depths of Mulligan’s Lanka, who is given these dulled-down meandering lines so on-the-nose and aparent that she’s never able to evade the obviousness of her being nothing other than a plot device to service to Jakub’s internal conflict, in turn undercutting her glow and magnitude as a compelling character of her own worth. It’s especially disappointing because Mulligan, as a constant professional, is giving her all to make the material pop, but Lanka is written so thinly and even eggregiously at times that the film’s first half even attempts to shame her for her feelings of discontent, and it leaves us with one of the only forgettable Carey performances that I can remember in an otherwise iconic career. Finally, while nothing compromising to Sandler’s own merited performance, the lack of a Czech accent to his portrayal did make it difficult to view and believe him as a citizen of the country, overlooking what is easily the biggest miscalculation to Renck’s otherwise stoically solid direction. This would probably be easier to forgive if Sandler himself didn’t attempt such a strangely unconvincing accent during the film’s opening ten minutes, before abandoning it all together, but it’s clear that Jakub’s nationality plays more than a tangible ingredient to his character’s outline, and as a result it should’ve driven Sandler to produce something more endearing in the execution of the portrayal.

OVERALL
“Spaceman” isn’t sure to attract any new subscribers to Netflix’s inconsistent cinematic model, but it is an entertaining enough time diversion involving poignancy that supplants more than a few vital life lessons to the things we continuously take for granted daily. Sandler and Dano’s infectious dynamic drives a compelling-albeit-obvious discussion that is unfortunately missing from other key elements of the script, and while the execution of the picture never succeeds the potential in idea, it’s still a beautifully crafted vehicle for Renck, who will use it to orbit his next ambitious frontier.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

3 thoughts on “Spaceman

  1. I guess Adam Sandler and Netflix are synonymous with each other at this point, ey? Your positives piqued my interest and I was so excited to check it out because Sandler’s been hitting home runs with me lately. But to read this drags and it’s got poor characterization makes me bummed out because that’s usually a movie killer for me. This feels like a “if I have absolutely nothing to watch” movie if anything and my watchlist is just too intense to include this in it. Thanks for the warning!

  2. I was talking with some guys at work and this movie came up with a lot of comments of Sandlers seeming decline lately. Though my fiance loves the movie that he did with his wife and daughters…the name of that escapes me.

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