Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Spaceman’ Relies on the Soul of Sandler


Director: Johan Renck
Writers: Jaroslav Kalfar, Colby Day
Stars: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano

Synopsis: Half a year into his solo mission on the edge of the solar system, an astronaut concerned with the state of his life back on Earth is helped by an ancient creature he discovers in the bowels of his ship.


Spaceman attempts to use the backdrop and void of space to examine depression and anxiety about the unknown—yes, the feeling of just how inconsequential we are in the universe, a blip in time, if you will. What Spaceman does is take its time to examine our regrets, fears, and possibly the prospect of reinvention. That’s where Adam Sandler comes in. The role is his best career performance and his most intimate on-screen to date. 

Sandler plays Jakub, an astronaut trying to outrace a South Korean team looking for a pinkish space anomaly resting just past Jupiter. From there, Sandler’s Spaceman is a raw, emotionally expressive, and evocative take on mental health, showcasing how the titular character leaves their most painful feelings on their sleeves.

However, Spaceman begins to meander in its self-pity. I would call director Johan Renck’s (Breaking Bad) penchant for excessive self-exploration an endless drag instead of having the right amount of poignancy. Initially, the film becomes gripping, even suspenseful. That’s because Jakub may have finally been broken for good after six months of solitary confinement in space and in the tin can he calls a ship.

For one, his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), right before Jakub is about to make history, sends an electronic message to her husband, saying she’s filing for divorce. The head of mission control, Commissioner Tuma (Isabella Rossellini), and Jakub’s handler, Peter (The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar), intercept the message before he can view it. However, it doesn’t matter, as Jakub has been waiting to hear from Lenka for weeks and can read the stars.

First-time scriptwriter Colby Day then makes a bold choice. Jakub encounters a giant space spider that can talk and goes by the name Hanuš (voiced by Paul Dano). Is this a clear mental break, or has Jakub made another grand discovery? He’s sane enough to ask Peter to locate a camera and tell him what he sees in the control bay, but all of the cameras have been slowly going offline for weeks.

Renck’s pacing and Day’s plotting do an excellent job of keeping the viewer from staying a step ahead of the ending, which ends up being ambiguous, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. The interactions between Sandler’s Jakub and Dano’s Hanuš slowly become a fascinating character study of the titular character’s own existential crisis. Dano’s calm, even tone and soothing voice mirror a therapeutic relationship. This allows Sandler’s character to begin pondering themes of his existence, the power of his choices, and the search for the meaning of his life.

This is all very provocative stuff. Yet, the film begins to become mildly repetitive. The script starts to fold in some backstory of how Jakub and Lenka met, even their fights before he left. The film would have done better to add one more layer to flesh out the main character thoroughly. They leave hints of haunting family memories, with Jakub’s father floating away like George Clooney in Gravity

Exploring this part of the human condition in Jakub’s backstory, such as suffering, morality, and paternal relationships, would have added greater depth to the film’s experience. Yet, the film’s final few scenes are sublime. It’s a daunting finale, with a sense of ominous beauty and melancholy that is even more profound. Most movies cannot find an appropriate ending for a film, but Spaceman manages to encompass the vast and powerful setting is a metaphor for what’s essential in life.

Now, Johan Renck’s movie is nothing new; we have seen countless takes on a tried and true story of life and love, even if the setting here.is vastly different. Additionally, the film could have benefited greatly if the filmmakers continued to explore the marriage and Jakub’s haunting childhood with additional flashbacks. However, Spaceman succeeds on the shoulders of Sandler’s soulful turn. He does what great actors do, making the viewer feel something that is emotionally visceral. 

That’s how Sandler’s Spaceman wins.

Grade: B-

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