Thursday, March 30, 2023

Space Oddity: Kyra Sedgwick Directs Kevin Bacon

Everyone knows SpaceX will beat NASA to Mars by decades, if not centuries. A new start-up plans to do it sooner. Nobody has ever heard of them, which should signal problems to their prospective recruits. Nevertheless, Alex McAllister is eager to go. Supposedly, they can make the journey cheaper, because their colonists are only going one way. For the depressed twentynothing, that is a feature rather than a bug. He is still probably the only person who believes he is Mars-bound in Kyra Sedgwick’s Space Oddity, which opens tomorrow in New York.

McAllister is still openly grieving the accidental death of his popular big brother, for which he partially blames himself. At least training for the Mars mission has given him a renewed sense of purpose, or so his mousy mother tells herself. On the other hand, his father Jeff is openly skeptical of the mission. He would much prefer his son take over the family flower farm, since his brother cannot and his sister Liz moved away to become a high-powered corporate PR flak.

Since he will be dead to the world, part of McAllister’s preparations involve purchasing life insurance—nobody bothers to explain just how his heirs would produce a death certificate to collect. The box needs to be checked regardless, so he walks down to Mike Taylor’s insurance office, where his daughter now works. Daisy Taylor already had an annoying meet-cute with McAllister, so she indulgently tries to craft a policy for his unusual circumstances. The more they see of each other, the more she thinks she might like him, but he still isn’t ready to rejoin life on Earth.

Alexandra Shipp is enormously charismatic, so it is altogether unfathomably that she could fall for a loser like McAllister. As awkwardly portrayed by Kyle Allen, McAllister hardly seems capable of tying his own shoes. Frankly, walking and chewing gum at the same time would be well beyond him, let alone astronaut training. Not surprisingly, his chemistry with Shipp is unconvincing, despite her game efforts.

The understated approach of Kevin Bacon (Mr. Sedgwick) as McAllister’s crusty father is much more successful. Madeline Brewer is also often amusing as snarky sister Liz, while Simon Helberg adds some shaggy dog charm as the family’s Russian farmhand, Dimitri. There is a lot of nice supporting work here, but the problem is the central character has absolutely zero credibility—none—and grates on viewers, like fingernails on a blackboard.

Even though the McAllister family operates a flower farm, the old man makes some decent points about the danger posed by foreign concerns buying up American farmland. Sedgwick and cinematographer Alar Kivilo (who also lensed
A Simple Plan and The Lake House) make the flower farm look warm and bright. Unfortunately, brooding Alex McAllister’s drama is clumsy and forced. Not recommended, Space Oddity opens tomorrow (3/31) in New York, at the Village East.