The first time I saw this trailer, I was sitting in the theater waiting for Rogue One to start. As soon as the ad for The Space Between Us started to play, I found myself significantly more impatient. The Space Between Us feels like a horrible waste of time, and watching the trailer was more than enough to make me never want to spend money to go see it. Maybe it’s the part of me that hates romance, but when a sci-fi movie stars a young boy born on Mars, who becomes involved in a generic romance that takes place on Earth, I feel like a lot of missed opportunities had to have happened in the story writing process.
Heteronormativity trumps all, you guys.
The Space Between Us is a romantic science fiction film set in the near future which will be released just a few days from now. Our main character is Gardner Elliot. His mother is an astronaut on Mars, who promptly dies giving birth. Gardner grows up on Mars with barely any friends. Then, after Facetiming with a girl on Earth, he decides to leave Mars and enlist her help finding his father. The two go on a road trip together over America looking for his dad and fall in love on the way. Unfortunately, after growing up on Mars, Gardner’s body is ill-equipped to handle Earth’s gravity, and he runs the risk of his heart giving out on him. Given that in the trailer we see both him and the girl, Tulsa, find where his dad lives, and then see Gardner and Tulsa fly to space together, I’m going to guess that he survives and they live happily ever after.
There are multiple reasons why the movie doesn’t sit well with me. The first reason is that the movie looks super clichéd. The mother is fridged early on; Tulsa doesn’t like Gardner at first, but she dedicates her time and effort into helping him anyway (all the while making ableist comments about him being crazy since he’s never seen a horse before); and there’s the overall lack of diversity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with heterosexual pairings, but our stories are already saturated with them. Watching yet another generic romance between a cis boy and girl is not fulfilling, especially since it doesn’t look like The Space Between Us even has any LGBTQ+ characters.
On top of that, the casting itself is also not that diverse. I do not believe for one minute that the people who made this film were incapable of finding non-white actors. BD Wong is in the cast, but for the most part, all the actors are either white or white-passing—and Wong isn’t even in the trailer. Adding more characters of color and adding in some queer characters would make the movie feel more inclusive for certain audience goers. It is possible to write romance stories for queer people and people of color.
The next thing that bothers me about the movie is its entire plot. I felt the same way watching this trailer as I did reading Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. The Host was marketed as a sci-fi book for “people who didn’t like sci-fi”. Except that people who don’t like sci-fi don’t read sci-fi, so writing a sci-fi book for girls and marketing it that way pretty much read as “sci-fi girls can actually enjoy because true love”. The Space Between Us also has that “sci-fi for women” feel to it. Of course romance can be a major feature of a sci-fi story—The Host, while I didn’t like it, did this ably. But The Space Between Us is a romance with little to no “science” in its science fiction at all.
When a story is about a boy born on Mars, the entire plot should not revolve around a road trip through America. Compare this to something like The 100—yes, the characters are born in space, and when they get to Earth, they find it just as wonderful and marvelous as Gardner does, but the Earth they return to is not the one we know. Humans are nearly extinct, there are giant river monsters, and the first deer they see has two faces. Gardner is returning to an Earth that’s nearly exactly like ours. Other than a few high-tech computers and a talking robot on Mars, there’s nothing in the trailer that really speaks to the “science” part of science fiction. If they wanted this to be sci-fi, why set it on Earth? Why not have the story be about a boy and girl traveling a completely colonized solar system looking for his dad?
I worry that the plot wouldn’t change much if he had simply been born on Earth with a heart defect. Those of us with heart issues do exist—believe it or not, the heart can have problems that don’t revolve around Earth’s gravity. Gardner’s heart problem right now comes across more as a convenient ploy to cause drama for the sake of drama and not a genuine attempt to explore what it’s like to live with a chronic illness or fall in love with someone who has a chronic illness. This is a bit of a personal issue for me, but my health issues are not a gimmick—they’re a meaningful obstacle in my life, so seeing chronic illnesses presented as a shorthand automatically makes me hate a story.
I hope I’m wrong about The Space Between Us and that it’s not as bad as I worry it will be. Nevertheless, this is one movie I’ll definitely be skipping, but if any of you want to see it, it comes out February 3rd.