You know when a famous, well-connected actor decides that they want to try their hand at directing? They’re able to rope friends and acquaintances into the project, even when it’s just sort of mediocre, and as a result, you have a movie that bats way out of its league in terms of the talent involved? That’s what we have with Space Oddity. It’s not so much bad is it is fundamentally not ready to be a film – despite the best efforts of the actors, it isn’t able to overcome the weaknesses in the script that likely could have been ironed out with a few more drafts. It has its moments, but overall, it feels like a Hallmark movie – maybe the best Hallmark movie ever made, but a Hallmark movie nonetheless.
Alex (Kyle Allen) is a clever young engineer who seems to be attempting to escape the trauma of his older brother’s untimely death by throwing himself headfirst into the idea of being part of a Mars colonization project. Mission to Mars, a private venture that feels very similar to Elon Musk’s vanity project Space X, claims to have selected Alex for their program. The way he explains it, they will be sending him to Mars in ten years, where he spend the rest of his life. (His parents, played by Kevin Bacon and Carrie Preston, and his sister Elizabeth, played by Madeline Brewer, are less convinced.) But their concerns don’t register with Alex – he’s fully committed to leaving Earth, and he won’t be talked out of it.
Things get slightly more complicated, however, when he meets Daisy (Alexandra Shipp), an insurance agent he meets while coming up with some sort of financial plan for his unprecedented journey away from Earth. Sparks fly, and he has to grapple with not just his growing feelings for Daisy, but the niggling realization that the Mission to Mars program may amount to little more than smoke in mirrors.
And the film…almost works? It feels like the kernel of a good idea that needed a little more work. But because Kyra Sedgwick was involved as a director, and was able to secure the talents of not just her husband Kevin Bacon but other prominent actors, it was greenlit perhaps before it was ready. Space Oddity certainly has its strong points – Simon Helberg as Dmitri, the Russian laborer hired to work on the family flower farm is uniformly excellent, and the dynamic between him and Alex’s sister Elizabeth could power the entire film. There are touches of grief that feel incredibly effective, especially in a sequence towards the end between Allen and Brewer as they reminisce about their lost brother. But it also has its considerable issues.
Kyle Allen and Alexandra Shipp are both charismatic rising stars, but they frequently collapse under the weight of the hackneyed dialogue. Alexander is an awkward character, and he’s written it in such a way that it ends up muting Allen’s considerable charms. There are efforts to make the film into a commentary on environmental issues, but it’s muddled and weak – it doesn’t seem to know exactly what message it’s trying to send, other than the simplistic and frankly trite idea that the Earth is worth fighting for, no matter how much you might want to give up and abandon it to its fate.
In the end, Space Oddity is less a cohesive film than it is a compilation of half-baked ideas that probably needed more time to percolate. A grieving young man who commits himself to a shady space program in an effort to maintain a connection to his lost brother. A young woman who tries to distance herself from her salt-of-the-earth family, pursuing a soul-crushing career in PR and desperately trying to fight the fact that the farm she grew up on will always mean more to her than anything else. A father who breaks his back trying to keep a small family-run flower business afloat, to preserve not just his life’s work, but the delicate local ecosystem that will surely be thrown out of balance if he sells. All of these ideas are more than enough to make a film out of, but they’re not developed here. And that is perhaps, the biggest flaw in Space Oddity: that it never fully understands what it’s working with.