‘Spaceman’ Netflix Review: Adam Sandler Led Sci-fi Romance Is Perplexing & Yet Oddly Comforting

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“Sad people in space” is an intriguing and unique subgenre. A lot of sci-fi movies and shows try to fictionalize space exploration by unraveling its mysteries, imagining what aliens would be like, what other planets would look like, and wondering whether humankind will be able to coexist or do what humans have always done, i.e., kill or be killed. But the “sad people in space” subgenre does the exact opposite, as it uses the vastness of space or massive celestial objects to make its protagonist reflect on their lives and gain some form of closure before they return home or take their last breath. Keir Dullea did it in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robert Pattinson in High Life, Matt Damon in The Martian, Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, Ryan Gosling in First Man, Donatas Banionis and George Clooney in their respective versions of Solaris, Sam Rockwell in Moon, and Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Now, Adam Sandler has joined this elite list with Spaceman.

Johan Renck’s Spaceman, which is based on Jarsoslva Kalfar’s book and Colby Day’s screenplay, tells the story of Jakub Prochazka, a Czech astronaut who has gone interstellar to study a pink cloud that has been hovering near Earth, called Chopra. He is all alone on the space station. He mostly talks with Peter, who conveys his needs to the powers that be. He occasionally appears for video chats with Commissioner Tuma and the press, and that’s where he also answers questions from kids tuning in to the broadcast from all over the world. He has a wife, Lenka. Once upon a time, they were deeply in love, but with each passing day, their bond grows weaker. They have the Czech-Connect (a device that offers seamless video chatting from Jakub’s space station to Lenka’s home), but they rarely use it to communicate properly. To aid Jakub’s personal and professional problems, a spider-like space explorer enters Jakub’s spacecraft. Initially, Jakub is scared of him, but eventually, they grow to like each other. Jakub names him Hanus, and they travel to Chopra together.

Colby Day’s writing in Spaceman is pretty straightforward, to the point that it’s perplexing. He mainly tackles three topics: Jakub’s relationship with his father, his relationship with Lenka, and loneliness. Jakub is apparently driven by the ambition to alter his father’s legacy, and he wants to deal with his contradictory feelings about his commitments to his wife while also caring for her when she is not around. Somehow, the mixture of these emotions has propelled him into space, thereby making him the loneliest person in the world. Much like every film in the “sad people in space” subgenre, the solution obviously doesn’t lie in the vastness of the unknown but within oneself. Through the simple conversations between Jakub and Hanus, Colby shows how humans unnecessarily complicate their lives by thinking that they have the power to influence nothing. That’s why they establish some impossible hurdles and believe that overcoming them will justify their existence. Of course, no one can change the past. They can’t foresee the future. However, they can be present for their loved ones, give them the attention that they promised them, and communicate instead of internalizing everything.

In most movies where men achieve unbelievable targets while ignoring the repercussions of their actions, the women in the story are either portrayed as worshippers or haters. There’s no in-between. Initially, it does seem like Jakub and Lenka’s dynamic in Spaceman is going to be sexist in nature to push forth the “exceptional husband, complaining wife” agenda. But, with each passing second, it becomes clear why Lenka refuses to budge and decides to wait it out until the brave and famous Jakub realizes he is in the wrong. It’s a very explicit and stoic way of showing that, given the finiteness of our lives, we should learn to love the people around us instead of depleting the planet’s resources to do interstellar tasks that don’t need our attention. Yes, it’s heroic, but is it necessary? No, especially when it’s destroying your personal life and bringing about no real change on the global stage. As a kid, I used to think that we should pursue interplanetary travel. However, we are a species where wars, famines, pollution, and inequality are rampant. Will it be really satisfying to reach another planet when we can’t save our own? In a way, Day and Renck say, “No.”

It’s really difficult to say if Spaceman is a good-looking movie or not because Netflix’s compression is atrocious. And since the streaming platform isn’t in the business of releasing high-res physical copies of their movies (or their shows), it’s impossible to know what movies exclusively released on Netflix actually look like. Still, you can make out Jakob Ihre’s stellar compositions and use of color, the amazing production design by Jan Houllevigue, the art direction by Ryan Heck and Chris Shriver, and the pitch-perfect VFX and CGI through the garbled pixels. I love that costume designer Catherine George dressed up Adam Sandler in clothes that Sandler wears all the time in real life, i.e., oversized T-shirts and baggy gym shorts. That said, it’s Max Richter’s music, the seamless editing by John Axelrad, Scott Cummings, and Simon Smith, and the sound design that make the movie such a soothing viewing experience. They expertly echo the melancholy and anxiety that’s eroding our souls due to the atrocities that are happening all over the world and offer a hug through our small screen. And I appreciate that.

The cast of Spaceman is amazing. The movie mostly rests on Adam Sandler’s capable shoulders, and the man delivers in spades. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Sandler has proven that he can do comedic roles and flex his dramatic chops whenever he wants to. He isn’t bothered by the criticisms that have been leveled against him, and it’s great that he continues to show that he won’t be typecast by his fans or his haters, and he’ll take on roles that’ll cement him as one of the most versatile actors in the industry. And that’s exactly why (and also because I don’t separate the art from the artist) I wish he showed the same amount of spine when it came to his politics, which is quite bigoted, to be honest. Paul Dano’s work as Hanus is spectacular. He says everything so innocently that it’s really comforting, while also turning it up when he needs to bring Jakub to his senses. Everyone needs a friend like Hanus. By the way, if you want to watch another lonely movie with Paul Dano in it, check out Swiss Army Man. Carey Mulligan is fantastic, as usual. I actually didn’t recognize Kunal Nayyar. The man disappeared into the role without caring about how much screen time he got. Lena Olin and Isabella Rossellini’s extended cameos are nice.

Spaceman is definitely a very simplified adaptation of Spaceman of Bohemia, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It becomes pretty evident during the first act of the film that the movie doesn’t really want to challenge its viewers. Johan Renck and Colby Day only want everyone to marinate in their protagonist’s sorrows, watch him fight his internal conflicts with his alien-spider friend, and resolve his issues with the person that he loves the most so that they can get the motivation to do the same if they are stuck in a space (metaphorically) that’s similar to the one Jakub is in. If you want some more complexity, you can check out Jarsoslva Kalfar’s book. I won’t recommend doing a binge watch of all the movies that fall under the “sad people in space” subgenre because it can take a toll on your soul. But if you think you can endure all that sadness, you can pair up Spaceman with any of the aforementioned movies and have a mighty melancholic time.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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