Space Oddity Review: Kyra Sedgwick’s Genderless Spaceless Rom-Com

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

From a young age we are told to show, not tell. Or show and telling, a concept that the second-graders in Kyra Sedgwick’s directorial debut Space Oddity seem to understand very well on screen, in contrast to that film’s script.

“Space Oddity” stars Kyle Allen (“West Side Story”) as Alexander McAllister, a man (not a teenager, though his maturity and young Jason Ritter-Heath Ledger’s boyish charm are otherwise direct) who prepares to conquer Earth to rely on Mission Mars, a respected space company run by a wealthy private company.

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

Alex, meanwhile, is determined to “write the next chapter of humanity” as he talks about an old-fashioned projector — seriously, can’t Mission Mars afford at least one high-tech PowerPoint? Is this a hint or an oversight or just bad?! — and looks 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 while sleeping in a greenhouse and living with his parents Jeff (Kevin Bacon) and Jane (Carrie Preston), both of whom are dealing with the grief of losing a child struggling in their own oppressed way on their failed flower farm.

You’re right if you think this sounds like a CW series. The lush flower farm on the brink of drought and the enforced “will they, won’t they” dynamic between Alex’s sister Liz, played by The Handmaid’s Tale star Madeline Brewer, and Russian farmhand Dimitri (Simon Helberg) is top-notch Fodder for a cute side romance in the comedy comedy Space Oddity. But the film doggedly draws on a component of climate change to smack people over the head with a bunch of reasons why the world as we know it is dying. True, but this film has a good reason why it should.

At one point, Alex angrily lectures a mirror, “I hope you all had a good time at the Tigers and the Lions farewell party!” And no, he’s not talking about Detroit teams ending their seasons. It’s hysterical in the best sense. “I’m going to Mars!” is Alex’s refrain in “Space Oddity,” and he actually says it to oneself – “End of the announcement.”

It should be noted that the film’s title bears no relation to David Bowie’s album of the same name, although it does draw on a cover of the title track to really double the emotion at a pivotal moment. “Ground control to Major Tom…” Got it?! Tom is the name of Alex’s dead brother! He is dead and not in space or any kind of sky; 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 most important and very problematic romance! Alexandra Shipp, the scene thief in the Oscar-nominated “Tick Tick Boom” and the “X-Men” franchises, as well as part of the A-list cast of “Barbie,” plays Daisy, a former competitive swimmer who lost her job at the Olympics was disqualified (?) for illegal co-payments, who now works at her uncle’s insurance sales office. Alex has a cute meeting with Daisy in the town square, where a bunch of elementary school kids dressed as soldiers shoot marshmallows at her. Marshmallows. It all happens alongside a cast of aging Navy veterans who have a Statler and Waldorf “Sesame Street” quality about them, but the odd references to the US military and US politics make for a gross, horribly out of place thread throughout the film .

“NASA is still 20 years ago,” Alex reminds his fellow human beings of the scientific breakthrough of the Mars mission, which seems more and more like a QAnon theory. “We’re going in 10.”

Eventually, Alex hires aspiring love interest Daisy to take out life insurance when he’s in space… basically leaving him dead on Earth… but don’t think about it too much. Alex also calls himself a “colonist,” which in 2022 is heard to cringe. The only hint that Mission Mars might be real is a TV news interview that confirms the project and questions Alex’s determination to embark on space travel.

But in the next scene, Daisy asks Alex the same thing: “Why are you leaving?” she wonders out loud, trying to empathize with his way of thinking.

“No one asks me that,” says Alex, amazed. It’s those kinds of moments that keep making audiences question their own sanity, let alone Alex’s.

So we will list them below:

-Alex hires Daisy as his CPR partner during his class at the local recreation center (again because Mission Mars has no money? Doesn’t it exist?) but EVERYONE OTHERS USE DUMMYS, including people with other (human) partners. Why is Alex instructed to aggressively (and incorrectly) revive Daisy? Why is this even a plot point?

-Daisy later confides in Alex that her parents took her swimming career too seriously and basically berated her and called her “Lazy Daisy” when she didn’t take first place.

“You must miss it,” Alex replies seriously.

– And now the sex.

The awkward imbalance of maturity in this coming-of-age drama makes for an awkward and highly unexpected sex scene (Alex acts like he’s 12 again). After Daisy encourages Alex to drink every time he mutters “meaningless existence” because alcohol is the answer to major depression, they get a little more flirtatious. Then it starts to “rain”—there’s no water since we’re told it’s raining because everyone says, “Oh, it’s raining”—which solves both the farm and Alex’s personal drought. But Daisy is already on her feet, even as she shrugs off her not-at-all-wet oversized blazer and kisses Alex “in the rain,” checking various rom-com boxes while lights flash and thunder roars in unsubtle aftermath.

First-time feature writer Rebecca Banner penned the script, which circulated on the blacklist in 2016, and the current space race before (or prediction?) “Space Oddity” is strongest with the younger female characters, namely Brewer and Shipp, who are the only real ones appear to be adults throughout the film. Not to blame anyone whose performance as a wounded and crippled 20-year-old (again, guess what) gives heart to the film. But it’s hard to compare it to screen legend Bacon, whose effortless lightness brings a charm to any scene he falls short in. It’s the plot itself and the elements that do that doesn’t make any sense they’re hard to see past. Alfre Woodard, too good for this film, graces us on screen as the friendly pediatrician who treats Alex because he’s acting like a little kid.

Alex’s childhood trauma is not resolved, however, and instead the only connection is between him and his sister Liz, who gazes up at the stars while holding wooden sticks inscribed with their names and their namesake nicknames – Alexander the Great aka “Conqueror.” ‘, Queen Elizabeth aka ‘Queen’ and Thomas Edison aka ‘Inventor’ – as they discuss the meaning of life. Just kidding, they talk about how dead Tom did weird things with his hands when he was telling stories. But honestly, that’s the most real part of “Space Oddity” – the feeling that there’s some kind of emotional bottom to sink into without getting lost in the daydream of making a rom-com with a grim political purpose make.

Grade: C

“Space Oddity” premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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Lindsay Lowe

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