Blasting off Sunday evening at the Tribeca Festival, Space Oddity is a small, character-driven dramedy of one young man’s odd life-altering plan to take a one-way ticket to Mars just as love and family intervene on his plans. If that premise sounds improbable, it actually is the kind of thing that seems to be popping up lately as fodder for various indie-centric film festivals. Earlier this year at SXSW, we saw comedian Jim Gaffigan in Linoleum, where he plays a father and husband whose lifelong dream of being an astronaut takes flight when he builds a rocket ship in his garage to do just that. Like Space Oddity, which comes from Kyra Sedgwick directing a Black List script by Rebecca Banner, that film focused on the rather offbeat behavior of its central character, much to the chagrin of his family.
Kyle Allen stars as Alex McAllister, who announces he will be leaving his family and their flower-growing farm in order to do an eight-year training program to prepare for a one-way trip to Mars, where he plans to colonize for the rest of his life. After he explains that this is a privately funded program that’s at least 10 years ahead of NASA’s own efforts to launch humans into the uncharted territory of the Red Planet, you would be right if you expect that his family led by father Jeff (Kevin Bacon), mother Jane (Carrie Preston) and extremely skeptical sister Liz (Madeleine Brewer) are a bit gobsmacked by this plan. But Alex has his reasons and clearly is determined to carry it out, with the somewhat nutso encouragement of a podcaster friend.
The local news gets wind of the project and arrives to interview him. Then he also meets Daisy Taylor (Alexandra Shipp), a new arrival in town, and eventually a mutual attraction develops that perhaps might find love putting a crimp on his mission to Mars. Conflict is created by the family’s gentle attempts to discourage him, even with a trip to longtime family doctor (Alfre Woodard, in for a couple of scenes) to see if there is a way to thwart this medically or psychologically. Alex always had been expected to join his father in the family business on their farm, and that dwindling possibility is starting to test Dad’s patience as the slim storyline proceeds.
This being a low-budget indie enterprise, you can be assured special visual effects are never needed to the point that, say, Ridley Scott got with Matt Damon in The Martian. No, this is all played out with cinematic modesty as a family affair and budding love story involving a guy whose simply stated career plans are very much colored by events in his past and a feeling that things might be better in outer space, seemingly far from the sometimes rocky road of life on Earth. The theme suggests maybe we ought to try to make it all work out on this planet before trying others, and perhaps a journey toward yourself rather than the unknown is the right one to take.
Allen is nicely cast and effective here, even if the character’s obsessive and dogged determination to go permanently to Mars started rubbing on my nerves the same way it does on everyone else around him. Shipp is an absolutely lovely and welcome presence, so much so you wonder how Alex can even still think of leaving her behind. Preston is excellent as always, as is the feisty Brewer. Of course we know how Bacon — Sedgwick’s husband — landed the job (he previously appeared in her 2017 feature directorial debut Story of a Girl as well as when she directed episodes of his Showtime series City on a Hill), and he is all-pro here while adding some needed name recognition to help get the film strong distribution. My guess is Space Oddity is most likely to find the latter on a streamer or VOD release since it can be a tougher sell as it is for all films on this smaller scale in the competitive theatrical market. Wherever it lands, it is well worth checking out — ultimately it’s a film that makes you feel pretty good, despite shades of gray, about the life we are already living.
Producers are Valerie Stadler, Meredith Bagby, Richard Arlook, Jack Greenbaum, Mark Maxey, Mickey Schiff, and Sedgwick. The film, which also has some very pertinent things to say about our climate change crisis in the course of the story, comes from Big Swing Productions in association with Rei Co-Op Studios, which focuses on projects with strong environmental themes, and also The Arlook Group and Rolling Pictures.
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