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'Spaceman' Review

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February 28, 2024
By:
Hunter Friesen
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If you were to close your eyes and envision an Adam Sandler movie about a Czechoslovakian cosmonaut, you’d probably come up with some sort of Happy Madison production filled with lots of zero-gravity toilet humor and slightly offensive accents. And if I were to ask you to predict who would voice the giant CGI spider (we’ll get to that later); you’d say Rob Schneider, Kevin James, David Spade, or anyone else in the Sandler crew. Luckily for us, we at least live in a good enough timeline where a film where Sandler is a Czech cosmonaut does exist, but none of those other things are true.


Chernobyl director Johan Renck is at the helm with a cast rounded out by Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, and Isabella Rossellini, all of whom go the Ridley Scott route of maintaining their natural speaking for their Eastern European characters. But for all those right ingredients on paper, Spaceman grounds the Sandler dramatic winning streak, proving that the simple sight of the comedian in a lower register isn’t enough to cover up an oversimplified love story with liberally borrowed plot points.



We first find Sandler six months into his solo journey to the outer reaches of the universe. Jakub Prochazka is the pride of Czechoslovakia, an invulnerable explorer who will answer our long-held questions. But that description is just what the populous is fed through the space program’s PR campaign. In reality, Jakub is nearing his mental abyss due to a mixture of isolation, a spacecraft that makes the Millennium Falcon look pristine, and his wife Lenka (Carey Mulligan) refusing to speak to him. Reality quickly begins to bend when a giant spider (voiced by Paul Dano) appears on the ship. Is this a real alien or just a figment of Jakub’s imagination? Either way, it has the ability to replay Jakub’s buried thoughts to help him through his unresolved emotional stress. 


If the plot synopsis of an emotionally detached astronaut working through their feelings sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is. Ironically, the final frontier has been the location for our Earthy problems several times before; most notably in Gravity, First Man, and Ad Astra. That last example gets extra points since both it and Spaceman feature eerily similar romantic situations and scores by Max Richter. But Renck and Sandler aren’t able to mine what director James Gray and Brad Pitt did with their 2019 film, settling on beats that come across more as conceptual ideas than lived-in moments. The back-and-forth bleeding of Jakub’s earlier memories with Lenka always stays on the surface, never answering the question of how and why these two fell in and out of love. They stare and kiss each other from time to time, yet never have a meaningful conversation.


That banality is at least pretty to look at, with the camera swirling around Sandler with a boxy frame. What is sometimes annoying is the gimmicky use of excessive film grain for scenes set on Earth, as well as the fisheye distortion for the memories. The spider, named Hanuš, is created convincingly enough to scare any arachnophobe. Its eyes dart in different directions, and its legs dangle as it traverses around in zero gravity.



Sandler has always been a very watchable performer, so the ability to pay attention is not diminished when half the scenes solely feature him. Unlike his dramatic work in previous films like Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems, he’s not delivering his usual Sandler-isms in a different key. This is an entirely different performance altogether, stripped of anything you’ve come to expect. He’s perpetually glum and reserved, never saying or doing anything that could be inserted into a future YouTube compilation. There’s no denying the fact that he’s still one of the industry’s biggest stars if he can keep you glued to the screen without doing much of anything.


Dano is a great piece of casting in his voice-only role, serving the melancholic curiosity that keeps the plot moving. Mulligan, on the other hand, is wasted in a doting role ripped straight out of a poor man’s version of a Terrence Malick film. She stares solemnly into the sky several times over, yet the emotional pull is as barren as the fields that surround her. It’s these scenes that epitomize the film as a whole: a pretty picture without much of a story to tell.

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