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‘Space Oddity’ Review: Kyra Sedgwick’s Directorial Debut Is a Spaceless, Sexless Rom-Com

Tribeca: The cringe coming-of-age story lacks chemistry — let alone any real science.

Space Oddity

“Space Oddity”

Tribeca

From a young age, we’re told to show, not tell. Or show and tell, a concept that the second graders in “Space Oddity,” Kyra Sedgwick’s directorial debut, seem to grasp very well onscreen, unlike the script of this film.

“Space Oddity” stars Kyle Allen (“West Side Story”) as Alexander McAllister, a man (not a teenager, although his maturity level and young Jason Ritter-slash-Heath Ledger boyish charm direct otherwise) preparing to leave Earth on Mission Mars, an esteemed space-age venture led by a wealthy private company.

No, not Elon Musk’s SpaceX program or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, both name-dropped in the film. Instead, Mission Mars is a vague concept that may or may not be a scam, and soon “Space Oddity” seems to hint that Alex is living in a “Truman Show”-esque delusional construct built from the trauma of surviving a car accident that killed his older brother, Tom (the name is important, annoyingly so). This isn’t helped by Alex’s Skype friendship with disgruntled suburban dad and fellow Mission Mars member Curtis (Andrew Polk) which makes the whole thing…suspicious. Curtis is a little too eager to leave Earth and easily could be a co-founder of the whole farce.

Alex, meanwhile, is determined to “write mankind’s next chapter” while narrating over an old-school projector — seriously, Mission Mars can’t afford a more high-tech PowerPoint at least? Is this a clue or an oversight, or just bad?! —  and is looking forward to moving to Mars where he will “marry, explore, pioneer, and die.” Emphasis on the marry aspect, as Alex is fed up with Earth girls or any kind of human interaction whatsoever as he sleeps in a greenhouse and lives with his parents Jeff (Kevin Bacon) and Jane (Carrie Preston), who each deal with the grief of losing a child in their own repressed ways on their failing flower farm.

You’d be right to think this sounds like a CW series. The lush flower farm on the verge of a drought and the forced “will they, won’t they” dynamic between Alex’s sister Liz, played by “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Madeline Brewer, and Russian farm hand Dimitri (Simon Helberg) is prime fodder for a cutesy supporting romance in the comedy of errors that is “Space Oddity.” But the film heavy-handedly relies on a climate change component to beat people over the head with a bouquet of reasons why the world as we know it is dying. True, but this film makes a good reason for why it should.

At one point, Alex angrily lectures a mirror: “I hope you all had a good time at the farewell party for the tigers and the lions!” And no, he is not talking about Detroit teams finishing their seasons. It is hysterical in the best way. “I’m going to Mars!” is Alex’s refrain in “Space Oddity,” and he even says it to himself — “over and out.”

To note, the title of the film has no relation to David Bowie’s album of the same name, although it does rely on a cover of the titular song to really double down on the emotion at a pivotal moment. “Ground Control to Major Tom…” Get it?! Tom is the name of Alex’s dead brother! He’s dead and not in space or any sort of Heaven; as Alex says, he’s “in the ground.” And Alex is trying to escape the ground aka Earth. What a story!

And we haven’t even gotten to the main and very problematic romance yet! Alexandra Shipp, the scene-stealer in Oscar-nominated “Tick Tick Boom” and the “X-Men” franchise, plus part of the A-list “Barbie” cast, plays Daisy, a former competitive swimmer disqualified from the Olympics (?) because of illegal supplements who now works for her uncle’s insurance sales office. Alex has a meet-cute with Daisy in the town square, where a bunch of elementary school kids dressed as soldiers shoot marshmallows at her. MARS-hmallows. This all happens next to a group of aging Navy veterans who have a Statler and Waldorf “Sesame Street” quality about them, but the odd nods to the U.S. military and politics make for an icky, horribly misplaced throughline of the film.

“NASA is still 20 years out,” Alex reminds those around him of the scientific breakthrough that is Mission Mars, with it seeming more and more like a QAnon theory. “We’re going in 10.”

Eventually, Alex hires budding love interest Daisy to buy a life insurance policy for when he’s in space…which basically makes him dead on Earth…but don’t think too hard about it. Alex also calls himself a “colonist,” a wincing thing to hear in 2022. The sole indication that Mission Mars may be real is a TV news interview that validates the project and questions Alex’s determination to embark on the space voyage.

Yet in the next scene, Daisy asks Alex the same: “Why are you going?” she wonders aloud, trying to get into his mindset.

“No one asks me that,” Alex says, dumbfounded. It’s these kinds of moments that continue to make audiences question their own sanity, let alone Alex’s.

So, we’ll keep listing them below:

-Alex enlists Daisy to be his CPR partner during his local recreation center class (again, because Mission Mars has no money? Doesn’t exist?) but EVERYONE ELSE IS USING DUMMIES including people with other (human) partners. Why is Alex told to aggressively (and incorrectly) perform CPR on Daisy? Why is this even a plot point?

-Daisy later confides in Alex that her parents took her swimming career too seriously and were basically verbally abusive to her, calling her “Lazy Daisy” if she didn’t come in first place.

“You must miss it,” Alex replies, all in earnest.

-And now, the sex.

The uneasy imbalance of maturity in this coming-of-age drama makes for an uncomfortable and extremely unexpected sex scene (again, Alex acts like he’s 12). After Daisy encourages Alex to drink every time he mutters “meaningless existence” because alcohol is the answer to severe depression, they get a little more flirty. Then it starts “raining” — there is no water, as we are told it is raining by everyone saying “oh it’s raining” — solving both the farm and Alex’s personal droughts, of sorts. But Daisy is already sprung even as she shakes off her not-at-all-wet oversized blazer and kisses Alex “in the rain,” checking various rom-com boxes as lights flash and thunder roars in unsubtle after-effects.

First-time feature writer Rebecca Banner penned the screenplay that circulated on the Black List in 2016, predating (or predicting?) the current celebrity-fueled space race. “Space Oddity” is strongest with the younger female characters, namely Brewer and Shipp, who seem to be the only real adults in the whole movie. Not to fault Allen, whose performance as a wounded and stunted 20-something (again, guessing here) gives heart to the film. But it’s hard to compare with screen legend Bacon, whose effortlessness brings a charm to every scene he’s ever too briefly in. It’s the plot itself and the elements that make no sense that are hard to see past. Alfre Woodard, too good for this film, graces us onscreen as a kind pediatrician who treats Alex because he acts like a little kid. 

Alex’s childhood trauma, though, is not resolved, and instead, the only closure is between him and his sister Liz looking up at the stars while holding wooden sticks saying their names and their namesake nicknames — Alexander the Great aka “Conqueror”, Queen Elizabeth aka “Queen”, and Thomas Edison aka “Inventor” — while discussing the meaning of life. Just kidding, they talk about how dead Tom did weird stuff with his hands when he told stories. But honestly, that’s the most real part of “Space Oddity” — the sense that there’s some sort of emotional ground to sink into, without getting lost in the daydream of making a rom-com with a murky political purpose.

Grade: C-

“Space Oddity” premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. 

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