Spaceman review | A beautiful, tender rumination on life and humanity

spaceman review
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Adam Sandler is trapped in space with a spider that speaks in the honeyed tones of Paul Dano. Here’s our Spaceman review.

When David Lowery attended a screening of his slow-burn, cerebral drama A Ghost Story in London a few years ago, he said he doesn’t mind if people fall asleep during his movies. In fact, he seemed weirdly honoured to have people feel so relaxed that they could drift off. He made it seem like a compliment. 

Johan Renck’s Spaceman didn’t send me to sleep, but it made me feel relaxed, mournful and at peace. 

Adam Sandler stars as Jakub, a cosmonaut on a year-long mission to investigate a strange space matter. Back home, his pregnant wife Lenka (Carey Mulligan) is recording Jakub a message in which she tells him that she is leaving him, she’s sick of being alone. Jakub’s commanding officer Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) decides to not deliver Lenka’s message to Jakub, in fear that it might destabilise the lonely cosmonaut even further. 

The plot really kicks in when Jakub expels a spider-creature from his mouth. At first assuming it was a nightmare, Jakub goes about his day, but the creature, now considerably larger, soon appears again and claims to be there to help Jakub. 

spaceman adam sandler
Credit: Netflix

At first, Spaceman appears to be a film about loneliness, only to later reveal itself to be about the human condition. While Jakub is on the verge of perhaps unveiling all the mysteries of the universe, Renck is much more concerned about humanity and what we can learn about it through Jakub and the spider, which Jakub names Hanus. 

Let’s be clear; very little happens in Spaceman. The plot is practically non-existent, and most of the film’s 108 minute runtime consists of Hanus probing around in Jakub’s memories with Lenka. One could call it boring, but if you’re able to tune into the film’s wavelength, this is an incredibly moving, rewarding experience. 

Because Spaceman isn’t led by any sort of action or plot twists, it wouldn’t work without such an incredible cast. Sandler, who has always been a compelling dramatic actor, but has rarely been given the chance to showcase his powers, is on excellent form here. He guides us through Jakub’s often unpleasant emotions with a steady hand and plenty of pathos. In many ways, Jakub is the villain of the story, but Sandler also lends him just enough charisma to keep us rooting for him. 

Read more: Dune: Part Two review | Bleak, beautiful blockbuster filmmaking

Paul Dano is an inspired choice for the voice of Hanus, and his soothing tones prove to be one of the most engaging parts of Spaceman. Mulligan is also electric, even if her character isn’t allowed the same kind of depth or development as Jakub and to an extent, Hanus. 

Ultimately, this is a two-hander between Dano and Sandler. Hanus himself looks fantastic and visually, Spaceman offers a feast for the eyes. Renck is ambiguous with the film’s setting; everything in Jakub’s spaceship is stained, clunky and manually operated. Spaceman does sci-fi the Alien way rather succumbing to the sleek futurism of most sci-fi films. 

There is a great tenderness to Spaceman. Renck directs Spaceman with the same clarity that he brought to Chernobyl, but Spaceman soars highest when it explores the many avenues of humanity. This is probably not Sandler’s best performance, but it is his most soulful turn. Equally, Dano brings great warmth to Hanus, who provides a mirror for Jakub to really look at himself and his past life. Hanus wonders why humans are so attached to guilt and pain, if there’s any value in it for us. 

Spaceman won’t be for everyone, and it’s certainly not perfect. It could have been condensed into a neater 90 minutes and Lenka’s development leaves a lot to be desired, but there is beauty, grace and truth in this tender tale of a man and a creature exploring space and time. 

Spaceman is in select cinemas 23rd February and available on Netflix 1st March.

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