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'Spaceman' review: Sci-fi drama finds Adam Sandler caught in a web of solitude

Adam Sandler holding a tube of some kind inside a spaceship

Sad men in space? Check. Moody synth drones? Check. Weird creatures aboard? Check. Endless solitude? Also check. Here we go again everyone, this is Spaceman, yet another sci-fi drama ticking all those boxes as it sends yet another movie star to the emptiness to explore a man's biggest fears, which are feelings. Directed by Johan Renck and adapted by screenwriter Colby Day from Jaroslav Kalfar's novel 'Spaceman Of Bohemia', the story introduces us to Jakub Prochazka (Adam Sandler), an astronaut who's been travelling solo for 189 days to the edge of the solar system. Alone with his thoughts and the infinite space, Jakub is coming to grips with problems in his marriage with Lenka (Carey Mulligan), who is back on Earth, as he finds a buddy to talk to about them in Hanus (voiced by Paul Dano, physically performed by Elke Luyten), a strange spider that emerges from nowhere.

First 20 minutes of the film should already tell you about the unpredictable journey we're on as Renck can undoubtedly adjust his moods and ambiences—we can call this the Sad Space Dude™ template—with slightly underlit but elegant visuals shot by DoP Jakob Ihre that the director employed previously in TV as well. Composer Max Richter's layered synth pads also make a lot of the space sequences appropriately desolate so it's not until we begin to get more and more in contact with the people on the ground that the mission starts to go awry.

It has a lot to do with Renck and casting directors Nina Gold and Robert Sterne's decisions to pair up Sandler and Mulligan as the central bond, as well as using Isabella Rossellini (playing Tuma, Jakub's supervisor) to deliver mainly empty remarks. Mulligan is sadly both miscast and underserved in her role as the Sad Wife™, underscored by multiple flaws including sub-zero level chemistry with Sandler (who also looks at her like he's never seen her before), atrocious wigs and a baffling glumness of her line deliveries. That glumness also serves as evidence of the movie's problems with tone, which should help one to differentiate Jakub's revelations about his shortcomings at the end from his insecurities in the beginning. Those feelings should speak to the film's questions about marriage, growing apart and masculinity but when it's all wrapped up in melancholia from beginning to end, it's too hard to connect any of those dots.

On the other side of the challenges of casting and central relationships, Dano voicing the contemplative spider whose web Jakub must first untangle before untangling his future is a spectacular choice. Combining the soft-spoken nature with tasteful sound editing of the delivery and solid visual effects, plus flourishes of Sandler as a scene partner that we get to see way too rarely from him, means that all of the mournfulness inside the spacecraft is rather engaging for a viewer. The conversations between Jakub and Hanus have unexpected twists and spirals, contrasted well by Sandler and Dano's quietude, which again makes you question the purpose of the perplexing material regarding the marriage. With that, Spaceman is reaching for a moving moment of absolution that it never quite earns, emphasised by a mediocre final shot of a mediocre character.

Smileys: Paul Dano

Frowneys: Casting, tone

He was in outer space by himself when he was researching spiders right before he could die.


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