SPACEMAN Review: The Loneliness of the Long-Distant Astronaut

Adam Sandler continues his compelling dramatic turns with Spaceman, even if the film itself has a hard time finding its footing.

Adam Sandler dares to be the Spaceman no one ever thought he’d be on Netflix. His career has been nothing short of eclectic. From career-best turns in Uncut Gems, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and Punch-Drunk Love to mindless comedies like Grown Ups, Jack & Jill, and, most recently, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah.

The Sandman has always done whatever he enjoys the most, without care for critical reception (Jack & Jill is one of Sandler’s highest-grossing films, despite a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes). 

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It’s more than commendable, but the actor has always been at his best when caring for the film he’s starring in, especially when it requires a dramatic, vulnerable turn from him. That’s why his latest work, Spaceman, contains his best performance since Uncut Gems, as it requires the actor to open himself up in ways he’s never fully expressed throughout his career. 

Spaceman Plot Summary

Adapted from Jaroslav Kalfař’s Spaceman of Bohemia, Sandler plays Czech astronaut Jakub Procházka, who is on a year-long space mission to reach the Chopra cloud, a purple-like dust cloud lying beyond the surface of Jupiter. It’s implied Jakub has made lots of sacrifices in his life, but none like what he is currently doing. With his commanding officer Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) choosing Jakub for the mission, the astronaut had to leave his pregnant wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), to care for her child alone while he is investigating mysterious particles in space. 

We begin the movie with Lenka recording a message to Jakub on CzechConnect announcing her separation from him. Tuma receives the message and decides not to relay it to Jakub, who is under immense pressure and is extremely lonely in space. Suddenly, strange noises are heard in his spaceship, prompting Jakub to investigate them. When he opens his bathroom door, he sees a giant extraterrestrial arachnid who wishes to help Jakub with his loneliness and understand his psyche. Jakub ultimately names the spider Hanuš (and he is voiced by Paul Dano, giving a gentle, almost melancholic turn to the creature), and the two bond in space as everything crumbles for Lenka on Earth. 

Spaceman Works When Focusing on Sandler’s Jakub

Directed by Johan Renck, Spaceman works best by focusing on Jakub’s introspection as he examines his life with Hanuš. The images created by cinematographer Jakob Ihre are genuinely soul-shocking in their rawness and intimacy, as we see glimpses of Jakub’s past through a spider’s eye. Purposefully distorted and fragmented, these visual flourishes tell us more about Jakub than most of his behavior in his “present-day” mission. 

Some of these moments don’t shy away from Jakub’s violent childhood as the son of a Communist Party informant who was brutally tortured in his home before being killed. These flashbacks don’t deepen our understanding of Jakub’s relationship with his father and dark past. However, they give us enough moments to fully attach ourselves to the character as he relives the most fulfilling and torturous parts of his life with Hanuš. 

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Some have already joked that the film is the literal translation of “men will literally go to space and talk to a giant spider than go to therapy” meme, but there’s so much more here than meets the eye. For once, Sandler immediately devastates in his quiet, meditative performance that a small flinch or change in his facial expressions can mean so much more than what he shows in front of the camera. Rarely has such an eclectic talent opened himself up like this in a film, even while playing a fictitious character, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for Sandler since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love

Spaceman Netflix header
SPACEMAN. Adam Sandler as Jakub in Spaceman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

With Dano equally as magisterial as Hanuš, the two form an incredible symbiosis as they explore Jakub’s life and start to peer into what it means to be a human. Being lonely certainly has its upsides, as one can create a comfortable routine as they slowly take a trip around the sun. But it also has disadvantages because one realizes how precious and finite they are once alone and have no one to talk to. Jakub realizes this late in his life, which completely shifts his personality as he approaches the Chopra cloud. Was it all worth it? Or has he been wasting the precious time he’s been gifted?

These questions lead into the film’s most staggering scene, where Jakub takes a trip inside the cloud, showcasing Renck’s mastery with dazzling visual effects, supported by an emotionally stirring score from Max Richter, elevating the patterns he established for On the Nature of Daylight and his last ‘sad man in space’ movie, Ad Astra, to even more powerful heights. His score is the beating heart and soul of the film, solidifying the film’s strong visuals and beautifully accompanying Sandler’s Jakub in his journey of self-discovery. 

Spaceman Falters when Focusing on Earth

It’s a shame that the film immediately grinds to a halt when it cuts back to Earth, with tepid turns from Mulligan and Rossellini, playing severely underused and underwritten supporting characters. It’s almost as if the film didn’t warrant these moments of introspection through Lenka’s point of view as they repeat clear elements laid out by Jakub in space. Renck is a fantastic visual and thematic filmmaker, as laid out through his masterpiece, HBO’s Chernobyl

However, Renck seems busy hand-holding the audience to no end on Earth, instead of trusting their intelligence to understand the non-communication from Lenka through CzechConnect instead of repeating the same points ad nauseam through conversations with her mother, Tuma, and Jakub’s technician, Peter (an excellent Kunal Nayyar in an against-type dramatic role). Don’t understand what the film’s about? No problem, we’ll repeat it until it becomes ingrained in your system!

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I appreciate the hand-holding, which seems necessary in major studio productions nowadays. There was no need for it to be this egregious because it undermines the work Mulligan and Rossellini do inside the film. Their characters don’t feel like fully-formed humans but people who repeatedly point out what the film’s about until they have nothing more to say. 

Funnily enough, when Lenka has exhausted everything she needs to say to the audience, the film ends, leaving Jakub’s journey on an imperfect note rather than a fulfilling one. But the strongest parts of Spaceman make us realize just how incredible of a talent Sandler is in front of a camera, and he will always care about the material when he wants to. It’s a shame we’ll probably get Grown Ups 3 and 4 before he makes something as serious and poignant as Spaceman again, but let him make what he wants. After Uncut Gems, he more than deserves it. 


About Spaceman

Release Date: March 1, 2024
Director: Johan Renck
Screenplay: Colby Day
Music: Max Richter
Producers: Michael Parets, Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin, Peter Kiernan, Timothy Headington, Lia Buman, Max Silva
Production: Tango Entertainment, Free Association, Sinestra
Distribution: Netflix
Cast: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Kunal Nayyar, and Isabella Rossellini

Synopsis: Half a year into his solo mission on the edge of the solar system, an astronaut concerned with the state of his life back on Earth is helped by an ancient creature he discovers in the bowels of his ship.

Spaceman is now streaming on Netflix. What did you think of the movie? What is your favorite Adam Sandler dramatic performance? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on social media! We’re always watching.



Picture of Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent

Maxance is a freelance film and TV writer, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the University of Montreal, with a specialization in Video Game Studies.