Adam Sandler as Jakub in Netflix's "Spaceman."

Adam Sandler as Jakub in Netflix's "Spaceman." Credit: Netflix

MOVIE "Spaceman"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan headline “Spaceman,” a relationship drama about a lonely astronaut whose marriage falls apart while he's on a solo mission to the outskirts of Jupiter.

Sandler stars as the astronaut, Jakub Procházka, while Mulligan plays his wife Lenka. She's pregnant, left behind on Earth and trying to start a new life, while Jakub investigates a mysterious cloud of purple space dust. Lena has stopped communicating with her husband and the agency controlling his mission aims to keep her “I'm leaving you” message from ever getting to him.

The movie is an adaptation of “Spaceman of Bohemia,” a 2017 novel. It's directed by Johan Renck (HBO's “Chernobyl”) and co-starring Isabella Rossellini, as well as Paul Dano as the voice of Hanuš, an alien that materializes on Jakub's ship. Hanuš looks like a giant spider, but has the demeanor of a therapist, helping the astronaut at his lowest moment.

MY SAY “Spaceman” is not the movie one might have anticipated for a Sandler vehicle, skewing closer to Andrei Tarkovsky (“Solaris”) territory than, say, George Lucas. Deliberate and meditative, it concerns itself far more intensely with the internal monster devouring Jakub than with any sort of detail about his interstellar mission.

Sandler gives a performance of impressive restraint. The star offers a full sense of this person's spiraling mental condition, even as he spends the picture almost exclusively alone, millions of miles from the nearest human, with only his giant spider friend for comfort.

It's another reminder of his acting talent, which too often remains underappreciated, even though he's actually constructed quite an impressive resume of work on this level to go along with the disposable comedies.

But no matter how much Sandler makes the audience feel for Jakub, it can be hard to sustain an entire picture with nothing more than overarching sadness. And “Spaceman” never finds another register. 

In fact, it plays as so relentlessly grim that it becomes suffocating, unfolding in a haze of misery without a shred of light or hope. Mulligan ("Maestro"), one of the finest actors around, personifies this, as her Lena gets little to do but to mope around and look terribly sad.

It's a movie about a relationship in which we only see the characters together in the occasional brief flashback, so there's no real sense of what's been irrevocably lost.

That leaves little tangible to grasp when it comes to processing the enormous gulf that has developed between them, personified as much by the physical miles that separate Jakub and Lena as the emotional distance amplified by this mission.

All that's left is the general, unrelenting malaise.

There's some mystery in the origins of the space dust that spurred Jakub's journey, the sudden presence of Hanuš and the suggestion that the astronaut might be on the cusp of a transformative interstellar discovery. 

But the protagonist can barely bring himself to care and the movie follows suit.

BOTTOM LINE It's so glum that it's hard to watch.

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