« Return to the Shadows | Main | Mountainish Inhumanity »

Spider Sense: Far From Home

Larry Horricks/Netflix

Spaceman (2024)

After “Gravity” came out, Tina Fey famously quipped that it’s about how George Clooney would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with a woman his own age. Along those lines, “Spaceman” is about how Adam Sandler would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with his pregnant wife. Deep space is a long way to go to learn that your wife’s feelings are just as valid as your career; and a talking space spider is one hell of a therapist, but hey, whatever works.

Jakub (Mr. Sandler) is the pride of Czechia, on a solo mission to figure out why the sky over earth has this purple glow from a nebula near Jupiter or something. He is in regular communication with his colleagues on the ground, namely Peter (Kunal Nayyar, finally getting a decent part for once in his career) and Commissioner Tuma (Isabella Rossellini). Even after six months alone and he approaches the nebula, he is doing fine. But his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan, and more on whom later), has stopped taking his calls, which is agitating. Lenka told Jakub she’s leaving him, in a message which Peter intercepted; and she has gone to hide at her mother’s (played by Lena Olin in a truly thankless part). The Commissioner is worried if Jakub learns the truth their mission will collapse. For his own part, Jakub suddenly has something else to worry about: the enormous talking spider-alien (voiced by Paul Dano) that has somehow appeared on the ship.

Eventually Jakub calls the spider Hanuš, after the guy who designed the astrological clock in Prague (this hint of a subplot goes nowhere, though perhaps it did in the novel Colby Day adapted the screenplay from). Hanuš has been traveling alone for some time, became intrigued by the isolation of “skinny humans,” and somehow snuck on board to observe Jakub up close. Well, he also likes the vibration of the onboard toilet and the hazelnut spread. Jakob Ihre’s cinematographer and the visual effects by Matt Sloan and Lauren Ritchie are unfailingly excellent at making Hanuš seem utterly real instead of a disturbing hallucination. And after the initial shock wears off, well, Jakub doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. There’s nothing wrong with Peter, but they’re colleagues, not friends; and anyway he’s back on earth. Besides, what better way to teach an alien all about human civilization than complaining about your wife?

Modern masculinity specialist Channing Tatum and his business partner Reid Carolin helped produce this movie, which is the biggest clue to its true purpose: It’s about the deep sadness of men when their emotional absence/selfishness/failures/etc. means their wives stop loving them. Mr. Sandler has had a knack of embodying the zeitgeist for men of his same age since “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-’90s. Throughout his career he has delivered just enough occasional true acting between all the “Happy Madison”s/“Waterboy”s/“Grown Ups” or whatever to stay interesting. And here he is interesting indeed, a vision of sadness, someone who has achieved a pinnacle of success and found it’s meaningless because he’s all alone.

However. Ms. Mulligan’s first main role, in the wonderful “An Education,” was about the importance of a woman prioritizing herself over her boyfriends; and it’s no surprise than in the intervening 15 years that lesson has largely been subsumed by her other roles, primarily as wives and/or victims. There’s a remarkable edge to Ms. Mulligan which is deeply attractive, which is why Hollywood loves her in parts where she must struggle against selfish men, because men (and Emerald Fennell, who’s killed Ms. Mulligan in both their movies together) want the pleasure of sanding down those edges. And not to generalize, but this is why a lot of real-life marriages break up, because men don’t want an equal partner with a mind of her own. (OK that was totally a generalization.) But then there you are, alone on a grubby spaceship, talking to a space spider about how unfair it is nobody loves you, when every woman on the planet knows that all you had to do was show a little consideration and none of this would have happened.

This is not the kindest review, not least because director Johan Renck does a good job at making Lenka an equally important character to Jakub. The spaceship filming appears to have been done in zero-gravity, with effects work is so smooth and natural-feeling that it’s nearly taken for granted, which it shouldn’t be. And while it’s an American production it has a real Czech vibe, which is probably what brought it to the Berlinale. But it all boils down to how men would rather listen to a talking space spider than a woman. Mr. Sandler’s knack for the zeitgeist has once again done something really interesting, but anyone with an exhusband or exboyfriend will have heard this story before.


Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.

© 2008-2024 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on X
Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions | Powered by TypePad