Review: ‘Spaceman’

Adam Sandler's Chat With A Spider About Loneliness Is Boring On Earth And In Space

A movie in which Adam Sandler chats with a giant spider voiced by Paul Dano should not be as dull as Spaceman is. But that’s sadly the case in Johan Denck’s undoubtedly weird, undoubtedly boring rumination on loneliness in deep space. Sandler has done some of his best dramatic work since his partnership with Netflix began, reminding us regularly that he can be a great actor when he wants to be. He clearly wants to be here, as well, giving a somber, pensive performance that runs counter to many of his goofball roles. Sadly, you’ll beg for the Sandler of old to return and start doing impressions of “Opera Man” just to spice things up a little.

Based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s philosophical sci-fi novel The Spaceman of BohemiaSpaceman stars Sandler as Jakub, and to say he’s a bit distant from other folks would be an understatement. Not just literally, as he’s a lone astronaut on a mission to the solar system’s edge to investigate a mysterious cloud of space dust; but emotionally, too. Screenwriter Colby Day’s script puts a blunt point on it early. During a press conference, Jakub is basically told by an inquisitive Czech girl that he must be the lonelist person in the world, and by extension the galaxy because he ain’t on Earth right now. While the moderator (Isabella Rossellini) tries to massage things a bit, it’s clear that Jakub is hit hard by the assertion. He IS lonely, whether he wants to admit or not. He looks for reasons to communicate with earthbound tech Peter (Kunal Nayyar), through increasingly paranoid interactions. But mainly, Jakub longs to hear from his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), who he hasn’t spoken to in ages and fears he has lost forever. The things he left behind on Earth are beginning to weigh him down.

Fortunately for Jakub, he isn’t alone for much longer, because crawling out of his nostrils is Hanuš, a giant spider that should be terrifying but instead sounds like the kid from The Girl Next Door. And since the spider sounds like Paul Dano, he’s actually not so scary. It takes Jakub a while to figure this out, naturally, and since the creature hasn’t tried to spin him into a coccoon or anything, they begin to converse. Hanuš is there, basically, because Jakub needs him to be, and so the spider forces his human shipmate to confront his most painful memories. What hits hardest are the things Jakub has tried to deny, such as the little arguments and grievances with Lenka that may be what has driven her away. They are weaknesses within himself that Jakub must contend with, thanks to the help of his therapist spider buddy.

It all sounds kinda ridiculous, right? If only Spaceman had played more with that aspect of it, which Kalfař’s book manages to do in measured doses. It’s a balancing act, because you want to make sure the toll of Jakub is being felt, but at the same time he’s on the therapy couch of a bug. The film is just too self-serious for its own good and wallows in misery. The visual novelty of the situation is lost, and the ideas it hits on are established early and repetitively. It doesn’t matter how far Jakub tries to flee, his problems on Earth will literally follow him to to the edge of the galaxy. He never should’ve left behind what truly matters, the people he loves and those who love him. These same ideas have been hit in better, more exciting sci-fi in recent years, such as Gravity and Ad Astra, and while they don’t have a giant talking spider like Spaceman does, you should seek those films out instead.

Netflix streams Spaceman exclusively on March 1st.

Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-spacemanA movie in which Adam Sandler chats with a giant spider voiced by Paul Dano should not be as dull as Spaceman is. But that's sadly the case in Johan Denck's undoubtedly weird, undoubtedly boring rumination on loneliness in deep space. Sandler has done some...