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March 1, 2024 / Netflix

Starring: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Isabella Rossellini, Kunal Nayyar, Lena Olin

Directed By: Johan Renck

Six months into a solitary research mission to the edge of the solar system, an astronaut, Jakub (Adam Sandler), realizes that the marriage he left behind might not be waiting for him when he returns to Earth. Desperate to fix things with his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), he is helped by a mysterious creature from the beginning of time he finds hiding in the bowels of his ship. Hanuš (voiced by Paul Dano) works with Jakub to make sense of what went wrong before it is too late. Directed by Johan Renck and based on the novel Spaceman of Bohemia, the film also stars Kunal Nayyar, Lena Olin, and Isabella Rossellini.

Written By Kurt Morrison

Rating 4.5 out of 5

There are few working actors today whom no matter what they are attached to, I will watch.

Adam Sandler is one of those people. The Sandman holds a very special place in my heart, as his comedies of the 90s and 2000s are etched into my psyche, remaining forever quotable and rewatchable.

Spaceman takes all the Sandler tropes, both narratively and comedically, and tosses them out the space window, instead giving us a galactic character study on what it is to live the human experience and how the blackness of space possesses a loneliness that can both be seen and felt. It is one of the most unique movie going experiences I have had in a long time that was filled with self reflection, tears and an overall different outlook on life when I was done watching it.

Based on the Jaroslav Kalfař book ‘Spaceman of Bohemia’’, the story begins on the 189th day of a solo trip to the outskirts of Jupiter where Czech Cosmonaut Jakub Procházka (Sandler) is investigating the Chopra cloud — a cosmic anomaly that showed up four years ago in our sky. Being 700 million kilometers away from home has had its effect on Jakub, as we see the visible sleep deprivation on his face thanks to a broken and noisy toilet, along with the stress of the mission.

Most of all, a clear breakdown in communication with his pregnant wife Lenka, played by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, has left him unable to come to terms with the potential consequences of his decision to leave her for this journey.

Directed by Johan Renck, who won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series with HBO’s Chernobyl, Renck is clearly a cinephile at heart as he injects a plethora of meditative science fiction greats into this odd endeavor. 

Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a clear influence here, using the Chopra cloud’s magnificent beauty as a metaphysical apparition for what unknown horror lay within it. 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is also a clear influence on our protagonists journey but I will save that for later, as it provides a far juicier piece to this cosmic puzzle.

For the first time since 2019’s Ad Astra, the always magnificent Max Richter creates a score that is wonderful throughout, delivering pieces that are both absorbing and elegant, and anxiety inducing at times. I have said it for over a decade now since his work on HBO’s The Leftovers, but Richter is one of the best composers working today and anything he releases always catches my attention. It was such a nice surprise to see his name pop up during the opening credits and it did not disappoint.

In a surprise effort, Adam Sandler once again showcases his ability to chameleon as an actor. The slow pace of the film is thanks in part to the directors belief in Sandler’s ability to disconnect from his usual Sandler-isms. It’s a different type of dramatic role from Sandler, very distant from even that of Uncut Gems or Punch Drunk Love. His typical mannerisms and movements are subdued here, as the script calls for a mixture of stoicism and frightenedness. He slows down his speaking, almost over annunciating at times while never really showing any crack in his patient scientific brain.

It is not until his meeting with an arachnid alien creature named Hanuš, voiced by the always great Paul Dano, that we see any real break in Jakub. The calming and collected demeanor of Hanuš becomes the most interesting and beautiful part of the film, as it’s a very clear homage to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey thanks in part to Hanuš HAL-9000 like tone and delivery….. with far less machine-based murderous rage of course.

As their relationship develops, we find out Hanuš is able to deep dive into the psyche of Jakub, with Hanuš claiming to want to aid Jakub in his emotional affliction. Distorted flashes of Jakub’s adolescence get lost in translation to be honest, and are not effective to the story but the glimpses of the beginnings of his relationship with Lenka allow us to understand that his loneliness is self-inflicted.

The deep dive into how the marriage began to fall apart felt like peeling the layers of an onion, with both Sandler and Mulligan making the best of their characters individualities, allowing us to understand that the deterioration of the marriage came more like a snowball, cumulatively gathering weight and speed until the cosmos tore them apart.

It was here that I felt the most emotional connection to the film because of its relatability. At times, Spaceman felt like a psychosocial experience for me - yes, trust me, it’s even odd for me to write. Not in terms of the situation, but having the emotional intelligence and ability to look back and understand how one's actions led to a particular path or situation. It’s an ‘open to interpretation’ viewing experience that anyone who’s gone through a break-up can relate to.

Spaceman is not going to be for everyone, solely because it is less of a science fiction spectacle and more of a well developed dissection of a man adrift in self-doubt and despair over his untethered marriage. That, in and of itself, is what made me fall in love with Spaceman.

At the end of 2024, I firmly believe it will be in my top 10 of the year and in a weekend consumed by attention for Dune 2, this is a beautiful, more calm sci-fi companion to watch at home

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