Between this and Look Both Ways, 2022 has been an excellent year for Riverdale alums to appear in high concept romantic comedies. All we need is Camila Mendes to co-star in a time loop movie, and… well, shit.
I might like Moonshot even more than Look Both Ways, though it’s close. The film takes the “trapped in one place” romance format and spices it up by setting it on a spaceship to Mars. The near-future space travel theme serves both as fun window dressing and also thematic content: The threat of disconnection and alienation in a tiny vessel in the giant void between two planets heightens every plot point, expanding the sense of open possibility. It’s never scary, but it does feel suitably lonely at the right times in the way that only sci-fi movies set in space can.
Walt (Cole Sprouse) is a poor dreamer who keeps getting rejected from a Martian space ranger program and is stuck working as a barista on Earth. Sophie (Lana Condor), meanwhile, has a boyfriend waiting for her on Mars if she’ll just get over her space angst and reserve an interplanetary ticket. Homebody vs. wanderlust, rich vs. poor, career vs. adventure. It’s a pretty basic setup, but Moonshot does a good job laying out the contrasts between the characters.
After Walt makes a one-night romantic connection with an astronaut, he decides it’s finally time to take action, and stows away on the ship by hijacking Sophie’s ID, effectively forcing her to cover for him, lest they both be arrested.
Thus the sparks begin to fly, and it becomes clear that Moonshot is going to make solid use of astronomical metaphor in its romantic plot points and dialogue: stars shining bright above them, being on a “different planet” from a distant boyfriend, etc.
Variations on familiar romantic tropes are sprinkled in: enemies to lovers; just one bed; fake relationships; etc. It’s not exactly original, but it works well enough.
The comedy is ratcheted whenever Walt and Sophie interact with the stable of side characters on the ship. There’s the energetic captain (Michelle Buteau) and the kooky janitor (Davey Johnson) and a snarky robot AI voice (Peter Woodward).
What makes the movie click is the sterling execution of the thoroughly predictable plot, plus excellent chemistry between Sprouse and Condor. It’s hard to say which one is better; Condor feels a bit more natural and invested in the character’s emotions, but Sprouse gets in some terrific dry humor, and they play well off each other.
The film’s writing takes a slight dip in the third act with a few implausible plot turns and some rushed character development, but I think that’s par for the romcom course. There’s an odd stunt casting towards the end, too: Zach Braff appears in an extended, hammy cameo as an Elon Musk parody.
(And as far as writing blunders go, I should mention that Sophie professes to having “aerophobia” as a main reason for avoiding space, which is literally never mentioned again once they make it to the supposedly phobia-inducing spaceship.)
Part of what I enjoyed about the film is how garishly spacey it looks: The harsh, neon-drowned lighting screams weird technology and artificiality that fits the setting and tone. There’s also a solid score by David Boman that sprinkles in a dash of space opera.
The movie gives a strong bluff in its first few minutes that it might be more in the mold of a Before Sunrise thanks to an opening act between Ginny (Emily Rudd) and Walt, before Ginny gets shunted to the side. Rudd is good enough in a few minutes that I would love to see her as a lead in a similar film.
The worst thing about the movie might be its title. I get that a “moonshot” is an idiomatic phrase moreso than a literal one, but it doesn’t make much sense as a title for a movie that is entirely about a trip to Mars. Oh well.
Moonshot is solid, well-written, and charming, with just enough flavor from its premise and setting to help the romcom tropes go down easy.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film