de facto film reviews 3 stars

Since Adam Sandler’s role in the hit Safdie brothers thriller Uncut Gems, which helped redefine a new chapter in his career, the Sandman has been experimenting more with the kinds of films he chooses. While he still finds time to make goofy comedies with his usual Happy Madison production cohorts like Hubie Halloween and Murder Mystery 2, the comedic actor has gone out of his way to commit to roles that continue to challenge him. The 2022 sports drama Hustle successfully wedged the gap between earnest crowd-pleaser and a rich dramatic role for Sandler. His latest foray into drama, an existential sci-fi film, sees the actor furthering down even more daring projects. It’s commendable of Sandler to commit to such a strange, uncommercial film such as this, even if it comes short of its potential.

Courtesy Netflix

Jakob (Sandler) is a Czech cosmonaut sent on a solo mission to the outskirts of the solar system. He is tasked with reaching the mysterious “Chopa Cloud”, which is located just past Jupiter. Nearly 200 days into his expedition, Jakob receives a message back home from his pregnant wife Lenka (Carey Mulligan) regretfully admitting she wants a divorce. Reeling in isolation with the only person available to speak to is Peter (Kunal Nayyar), his support guide back at Mission Control, Jakob’s mental health begins to raise questions around the mission. However, Jakob finds a surprising guest aboard his ship, a giant alien arachnid called Hanus (the soothing voice of Paul Dano), who wants to get to know Jakob. Feeling isolated on the other side of space, Jakob finds solace in the company of Hanus, regardless if he is real or a figment of his imagination. His arrival allows Jakob the opportunity to finally come to understand and make peace with himself, while also getting to know about the secrets of the universe.

Director Johan Renck, director of the acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl, aims to tell an emotional, profound sci-fi film about the human condition. It’s a quiet, strange film with a meditative narrative that occasionally strains for dramatic investment. Focusing primarily on Sandler’s adrift Jakob, Spaceman bares many similarities to The Martian, and most notably Cast Away— simply substitute outer space for an island and with a giant alien spider instead of Wilson the volleyball. Spaceman is a visually striking film, full of seamless visual effects that offer an immersive atmosphere. Renck crafts some memorably haunting imagery, notably a shot of a spinning Sandler passed out drunk next to a floating bottle of vodka that is both illuminating and melancholic. While undeniably derivative of films like Moon, Interstellar and Solaris, Renck does maintain a singularly odd sense of tone. Max Richter’s entrancing score greatly aids in the film’s palpable feeling of yearning amidst the edge of the solar system.

Courtesy Netflix

The design of Hanus is effective at somehow showing humanity and a curiosity to a giant spider. Paul Dano’s whispery delivery pairs well with Sandler’s tortured astronaut. The extended sequences of the two characters waxing poetic about the universe and Jakob’s fractured emotional state comes with varying degrees of success. Both performances convey an authentic sense of longing and their dynamic is engrossing. Sandler is consistently the film’s greatest asset.  Like a raw nerve, Sandler carries such vulnerability in his physicality with a weathered look of emotional desperation. It’s Sandler’s performance that carries Spaceman through its narrative lulls.

For as ambitious as its many elements are, the weight of the script can often feel undercooked. Weighing many bold ideas, the writing feels watered down with repetitive exposition and one-the-nose dialogue that feel like a conscious effort to dumb down many of its potent themes. Characters often explain themselves blatantly, removing any subtlety from a film inspired by some of the most audacious and profound films of the genre. The finale, specifically, feels the need to add an additional last scene to needlessly wrap a neat bow on itself.

Courtesy Netflix

Spaceman is a strong showcase for Adam Sandler’s dramatic skills, but falls short of the greatness it so clearly aims to achieve. Director Johan Renck proves himself more than capable of helming a complex, layered sci-fi drama, but the material feels watered down and streamlined in an attempt to broadly appeal to Netflix audiences.

Spaceman is now streaming on Netflix.