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SPACEMAN

I Netflix Canada I March 1, 2024 I

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.

REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING 3 out of 5

Spaceman features great performances from Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan that will no doubt draw viewers into the film, but it is ultimately the entrancing musical score of Max Richter that drives the film despite a story that is not going to connect with all viewers as much as the filmmaking team hoped it would.

 

Johan Renck is a prolific director in television and music videos, having directed episodes of hit shows such as Breaking Bad, Bloodline and the critically acclaimed Chernobyl, and working with music superstars such as Beyonce, Madonna and David Bowie. For his second feature directorial effort, Renck sets his eyes on Jaroslav Kalfař’s novel Spaceman of Bohemia, giving Adam Sandler one of his most un-Adam Sandler like roles to date. There’s no denying that there is great substance to the film, especially with a cast of talented actors such as Sandler, Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano, but for some viewers Spaceman is going to be missing that factor that leaves it being just an okay film rather than a great film.

 

While it has a science fiction setup with Jakub Prochazka’s solo mission to collect an ancient mysterious dust, the story is more concerned with its characters and their emotional wellbeing. With this focus, Colby Day’s screenplay captures the essence of Kalfař’s novel which flips the science fiction genre on its head. It’s a pensive, reflective and ultimately cathartic experience that does everything it needs to be to break down Jakub as a character as he re-examines his life through Hanus’s telepathic abilities, creating an emotionally stirring film. However, its pacing is very slow. It’s the type of film that will immediately speak to some viewers, drawing them in and leaving them in tears by the end, but for others like myself, it’s not going to connect on a deep level. The film never becomes a film that I would ever venture to call bad; it’s merely one that is not going to be every viewer’s cup of tea.

 

It’s always a welcomed treat when Sandler takes on dramatic roles and changes things up from his typical incredibly goofy but enjoyable comedic performances, because he is truly a great dramatic actor. And it shows during Spaceman. Sandler handles the role of Jakub with grace and humility, guiding the audience through Jakub’s past hurt and heartbreak with a performance that tugs on the heartstrings. He internalizes the loneliness that Jakub feels with a quiet intensity that makes his performance truly vulnerable, showcasing the range we often forget Sandler has as an actor. Mulligan is flawless as always as Lenka, Jakub’s wife who has decided to leave him while he is away on mission. Her emotional struggle as hers and Jakub’s relationship splinters from the distance between them is raw, while her frustration that the choice is being taken away from her to end the relationship as she seems fit for the sake of Jakub’s mission creates an additional heartbreak for the audience to feel for her character. And Mulligan revels in these emotions, demanding your full attention whenever she is on screen. 

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With Mulligan and Sandler in the lead roles, the film does not need any more acting calibre to sustain it, and while the majority of the supporting cast is good with stars like Isabella Rossellini, Kunal Nayyar and Lena Olin, but Dano shines above the lot as the voice of Hanus, the ancient spider that Sandler’s character meets on his mission. Dano brings a warm, guiding wisdom to the film that helps capture the tone that the screenwriters are aiming for, and he makes for a wonderful screen partner with Sandler. While it’s minor, it is funny that despite the majority of the characters being Czech, every actor maintains their natural accent which creates a mishmash of American, British and Italian accents throughout the film. It’s not a detriment, but a weird occurrence that makes the film’s setting puzzling at times as your mind wrestles what it is being told versus what it is hearing.

 

What easily carries the film is Max Richter’s musical score. It becomes the emotional heartbeat of the film, informing both Jakub and Lena’s reflection on their past and captures their emotional state during each scene. The musical theme feels deeply personal with beautiful melodies, but Richter dials the orchestrations and volume up to full blast when necessary for the film’s story, creating a truly immersive experience for viewers that overshadows some of the more obvious CGI shots that pull you out of the story. For anyone who pays attention to film scores, this should come as no surprise as Richter has composed some of the best scores in recent memories, he’s just needing the films he is working on to become a massive hit to place him among the greats such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Ludwig Göransson.


There is nothing wrong with Spaceman from a filmmaking point of view. It’s very well acted, carefully crafted and the musical score is truly impressive. The audience’s experience depends solely on whether you like this meditative and reflective type of story. If you do, you are going to have a beautiful time with Spaceman, and if not, it's probably a film you won’t think about at all once the credits begin rolling. While Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan deliver two wonderful performances, it is Max Richter’s musical score that steals the show in Spaceman that will pass the time for sure, but your enjoyment is dependent on how much you are able to connect with the story and its slower pacing.

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