Space Oddity is an ambitious film. It tries to tackle grief, romance, and our dying planet. Where the film succeeds is its portrayal of grief and relationships, and I wish that’s where it focused its efforts.
The film follows Alex (Kyle Allen), who’s just received news that he’s been accepted into a one-way Mars mission under a privately owned company. Immediately, everyone’s skeptical, especially since agencies like NASA say we’re decades away from space travel and inhabitation on Mars. But Alex doesn’t care, and he can’t wait till he’s off Earth and starting a new life on Mars. Love for space is something he shared with his brother Tom, who passed away, so he doesn’t really have anyone who can understand his passion for Mars and his decision.
His father Jeff (Kevin Bacon) is quietly frustrated but doesn’t stop him, his mom Jane (Carrie Preston) indulges him as she wants him to have some purpose, while his sister Liz (Madeline Brewer) is wholeheartedly skeptical and thinks the entire thing is a scam. Then he meets Daisy (Alexandra Shipp), whom he hires to work on his insurance plan. She’s more openminded than the rest, more curious about his decision than judgmental.
Shipp is lovely and brings a wonderful, bright energy to her role as Daisy. Unfortunately, she has no chemistry with Allen, who barely emotes throughout the film. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the actor or the screenplay, but Alex is a very unlikeable character. I know he’s meant to be odd – nearly everyone says it at some point – but even odd characters can be relatable. Characters like Theodore in Her, or Lars in Lars and the Real Girl are odd characters, nonetheless we like them and root for them. I would be lying if I said I rooted for Alex, especially as the film tries so hard to brand him as selfish for choosing a future amongst the stars.
What’s most resonant about Kyra Sedgwick’s film is the portrayal of how this entire family handles grief. You can feel it, heavy in the air, every time Tom’s name is mentioned. They’re all attempting to escape the reality of his passing in their own way. Jeff throws himself into work, Jane fusses over Alex, Liz became a workaholic who never left the city, and Alex wants to go to Mars.
It’s not a film centred around Kevin Bacon, but he steals every scene he’s in. When he’s talking passionately about the need and importance of farms like his own, or chopping wood intensely as he thinks about the son he’s lost, he has my full, undivided attention. It’s such a great, understated performance, and Bacon consistently reminds us that he still has the chops of a movie star. I found myself more invested in the relationship between Jeff and Liz, hell, even Liz and Dimitri (Simon Helberg) have a more engaging romance than Alex and Daisy.
The title Space Oddity is of course a reference to the David Bowie song, about a man who goes to space and as he floats “far above the world”, he realises something has gone wrong with his spacecraft. His last words to ground control: tell his wife how much he loves her. In choosing to go to space, he’s made the decision to detach from the world. And while the experience can feel satisfying, detachment also means drifting slowly into oblivion. That’s the message of Sedgwick’s film: we need people, we need to connect with what’s happening around us, instead of labelling everything as meaningless and using that as an excuse to check out.
It’s a great message, and with a more focused screenplay, the ideas could have hit home a little more. Instead, we end on a banal note regarding a lukewarm romance that we don’t care enough about.
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Space Oddity's screenplay wants to tackle all these big, profound themes, but never manages to go beyond the surface. The actors try to rescue the material, and do succeed in small moments, but it's not enough to make a lasting impression.
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