‘Spaceman’ Review: Sandler’s Interstellar Odyssey Orbits a Hollow Core

Dir. Johan Renck — 2.5 Stars


Warning: This article contains spoilers for “Spaceman,” now streaming on Netflix.

When Adam Sandler’s character in “Spaceman” ventures into deep space to complete a mission meant to answer some of humanity’s most pressing questions about the universe, what he actually finds is Paul Dano, in the form of an inquisitive spider-like alien.

The film, based on the 2017 novel “Spaceman of Bohemia,” sees Sandler play the role of Jakub Procházka, a Czech astronaut investigating the Chopra Cloud — an area of space near Jupiter whose purple glow has become visible from Earth. “Spaceman” derives its title from a nickname given to Jakub by his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), and the film finds its focus in their increasingly strained marriage. The spider-like creature Jakub encounters, whom he names Hanuš, seeks to understand the loneliness Jakub has endured for the six months of his mission.

While “Spaceman” presents a number of scenes that could have made for a meaningful study of loneliness and separation, it misses the mark, and leaves several plot points underdeveloped along the way. The film interestingly opts not to provide a chronological retelling of Jakub and Lenka’s relationship; their issues emerge earlier and more potently than memories of affection, establishing a puzzling foundation that forgoes an opportunity to evoke emotional connection with their romance. This inability to find emotional significance is compounded by a plotline involving Jakub’s father that never gets the chance to fully develop. While the film does have a few silver linings, most notably in Paul Dano’s voicework as Hanuš, its ostensible emotional center is nonexistent during the film’s climax, leading the whole enterprise to fall flat.


“Spaceman” presents Jakub’s memories of Lenka in a very disjointed fashion — a stylistic choice that actually lessens the emotional weight of the film. The film’s most compelling memory sequence comes early on. As Jakub sprays a yellow decontaminant intended to exterminate Hanuš, he is reminded of an occasion on which he trailed Lenka through a field of bright yellow flowers. As she draws further away from him, Jakub’s sense of longing becomes clear. This memory, however, is enveloped in others that highlight the struggles in their relationship, including one in which Jakub ignores Lenka’s needs during a tough moment in her pregnancy and comes off as a blatantly unlikeable character. Blissful moments between the two, including the time they met, are only shown later, when the film has already taken a pessimistic tone in regard to their relationship. While this disposition may not have been an issue if the film leaned more into Jakub’s loneliness and troubled mental state, its eventual thesis centers on hope for his marriage — a confusing choice that is blemished by the tonally-scattered portrayal of his memories.

Beyond its curious choices in regard to Jakub and Lenka’s relationship, “Spaceman” spins several incomplete plot threads, contributing to the film’s failure to come together as a cohesive whole. The most jarring of these details is an implication that Jakub has a difficult history with his father, who is mentioned prominently only once before the film attempts to ascribe importance to his role during the climax. Another integral but half-baked element is the connection between Jakub and Hanuš. Just before Hanuš first appears, Jakub has a nightmare in which a small, tentacle-like entity crawls in his nose, slithers down his face, and exits his mouth in a hair-raising sequence that implies something sinister about Hanuš’s role — whether it might have to do with parasitic desires or perhaps indications that Jakub is experiencing an illusory reality because of his loneliness. Strangely, no such development materializes; while Dano’s high-quality voice work imbues Hanuš with an aura that is equal parts soothing and creepy, the creature does little more than play the role of Jakub’s therapist, leaving something to be desired from the very peculiar nature of the character.

The film’s climax, which sees Hanuš guide Jakub into the Chopra Cloud, ultimately grasps at emotional payoffs that are nowhere to be found. Hanuš describes the cloud, whose swirling purple particles and highly kinetic nature are at least visually fascinating, as some sort of spiritual oasis that represents the unity of Jakub’s past and future. He lists off everything that comes to the forefront of Jakub’s mind at that moment: “Me, you, your Lenka, your father… every promise, every heartbreak.” However, because of the film’s prior mismanagement of its core relationship and surrounding elements, what Hanuš hopes Jakub will take away from this experience is unclear. The film’s various pieces therefore fail to coalesce at the most critical moment.

While “Spaceman” strives for a climax that the likes of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” achieves — seeking to combine an ethereal setting with the realization of profound emotional heights — the comparative lack of substance in Renck’s effort is palpable. Despite a strong cast and intriguing premise, this one has no business aiming for the stars.

— Staff Writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at