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"Spaceman" 4K Review

Since I'm relaxing my boycott of Adam Sandler - which after some reflection seems overkill (but that's another discussion) - I was willing to watch the weird cerebral science fiction Netflix Original Spaceman, in which Sandler plays an astronaut who has a close encounter with a giant talking spider while on a deep space mission.

Sandler is Jakub, a Czech cosmonaut on a solo mission to a bizarre astronomical phenomena called Chopra which has appeared beyond Jupiter. He is battling loneliness and depression after six months heading out and this is without knowing that his very pregnant wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), wants to leave him, but her Dear Jakub message was blocked by his commander on Earth, Tuma (Isabella Rossellini). One night he has a nightmare that something is crawling under his face before a spider's legs erupt from his mouth.

Then one day he discovers a visitor has boarded his ship, a HUGE (man-sized) tarantula looking alien he eventually names Hanus (voiced by Paul Dano), who tells Jakub he was in the neighborhood to see Chopra, but was drawn to Jakub's loneliness and wants to help. Able to telepathically access Jakub's memories, he begins to counsel him by exploring why his marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile on Earth, after a visit to her mother (Lena Olin), Lenka spends time at a ritzy spa for pregnant women.

Spaceman reminded me of Steven Soderbergh's 2002 version of Solaris in its quiet tone and increasing sense that what we're watching isn't really happening. Is there really a friendly alien spider who develops a hankering for Nutella acting as a marriage counselor or is Jakub's guilt for being a lousy, unavailable husband manifesting as Hanus. While Lenka comes off initially as a beyatch, as we get his side of the story we realize it took two to tear a relationship.

But what it really resembles is the mopey 2019 Brad Pitt sci-fi film Ad Astra (which I saw, but somehow didn't log and have no review score for) with Pitt as an astronaut with daddy issues who travels to the fringes of the solar system to have a showdown with his father. Along the way he encounters rabid lab monkeys and Moon pirates and it's all ridiculously stupid and convoluted for a story that could've been told on Earth as a road trip movie.

Forgetting the whole "When did Czechoslovakia get a space program? or "Is the spider real?" angles, what is the reason for sending only one man on this supposedly critical mission other than to have him be depressed, lonely and susceptible to space spider marriage counseling? That sentence alone is why you'd have a co-pilot on the trip. And it's a weird choice considering the production design of the spaceship is the most realistic depiction of what real spaceships look like I can recall. Not slick and futuristic, but functional, tactile, and what an Eastern European country would put together.

But the centerpiece of Spaceman is Sandler's performance and this may be the best acting I've seen him do. While I last suspended my boycott for Uncut Gems (score: 7/10) and appreciated his raw nerve performance, what he does here is so subtle, refined and underplayed that I suspect most people won't appreciate it. Instead of just playing Jakub as mopey, glum, and po'-faced, Sandler's stillness conveys the hollowed-out depression of a man set adrift, literally and figuratively, by his circumstances and his choices. It's really something to behold and that he was doing this while suspended by uncomfortable wires, harnesses and poles is even more impressive.

Mulligan, Rossellini, and Olin don't have much to do but provide diversions to cut away to. Mulligan's Lenka is more an idea than a character which is ironic considering her role is to be the center of Jakub's guilt. If they had cut all the Earth scenes, it would've have made much difference story-wise. 

While I was left lukewarm about Spaceman, the missus really liked it and she hated Solaris, so go figure. If you're in the mood for a sad tale of a man metaphysically lost in space, you may want to give this a look if only to see what the star(s) of Jack and Jill could've been doing instead.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on Netflix.


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