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Movie Review

Sometimes people make choices that have unexpected consequences. And sometimes those consequences have teeth.

Take Gardner Elliot for example.

A little more than 16 years ago, his mother rocketed off into deep space on a four-year colonizing mission without checking to see if she just might be pregnant before liftoff.

That resulted in Gardner being born on Mars.

And his mom dying in childbirth.

And his whole physiology being influenced by Mars' low gravity.

And his childhood being shaped by the fact that he was raised by a group of busy astronauts and scientists rather than a mom and a dad.

In spite of all that—and the fact that his very existence was kept a secret to protect the space agency's funding—Gardner is a pretty typical teen. He's rebellious, bullheaded and inventive. He doesn't know much about life on Earth, but he longs to go there. He yearns to strike out on his own. He really wants to meet this cute teen girl named Tulsa whom he's been messaging online.

And, probably most important of all, he really, really wants to meet his dad.

Gardner doesn't actually know who his dad is, since his mom wasn't married. And her belongings only dropped a few clues about who the man might be. But, hey, those are the small details, really. First, Gardner will have to figure out how to make it back to Earth … and determine if his body will even be able to function properly there.

Whatever it takes, though, he's determined to do it. He'll break any rule, circumvent any obstruction, make any reckless choice.

Of course, sometimes people make choices that have unexpected consequences. And sometimes those consequences have teeth.

Positive Elements

As Gardner and Tulsa meet and grow closer, they begin reinforcing positive qualities in each other. Tulsa helps Gardner recognize the value of his goodness and gentleness. And he helps her see that honest communication, earnest commitment and healthy relationships are actually obtainable goals. "You act like you hate the world, Tulsa. It's all an act," Gardner tells her. "The beautiful music you make gives you away."

Kendra, one of the Mars-based astronauts, is steadfastly protective of Gardner. In fact, even though she says she never really had any desire to be a parent, she has come to love Gardner as her own son. After Gardner makes it to Earth and sets off on a dangerous road trip, Kendra puts everything else aside to focus on his well-being. Gardner acknowledges this fact and tells her, "You're the best mom I never had."

[Spoiler Warning] Kendra later embraces her emerging maternal instincts to the point that she's willing to offer parentless Tulsa a place the girl can call home. We also find out that the man behind the NASA Mars program, Nathanial Shepard, is actually Gardner's father. He puts his life on the line to right his past wrongs and save Gardner's life.

Spiritual Content

Before launching into space, lead astronaut Sara Elliot says, "Courage is fear … that has said its prayers." Gardner watches a German movie about an angel falling in love and choosing to become human in order to be with his love. Gardner equates that film to his growing feelings for Tulsa.

In their travels, Gardner and Tulsa make their way to a spiritual shaman whom they believe might have married his parents. (That turns out not to be the case.)

Sexual Content

Though we never see them interact, it is implied that Gardner's mom, Sara, has an affair with an older man.

As Gardner and Tulsa's relationship grows, they become more physical. They kiss on several occasions, he puts his hand on her bare leg in a sensual manner. We also see them lightly caressing each other in a large sleeping bag, their bare shoulders sticking out of it.

Violent Content

Experts at NASA decide that Gardner's bones will need reinforcement to function properly in Earth's increased gravity. We see a brief shot of surgery as the teen's arm is cut open and a metal tube is inserted.

Gardner recklessly drives a cart on Mars, crashing it, disconnecting his oxygen tube and almost dying before being rescued. On Earth he and Tulsa do a bit of reckless motoring in stolen vehicles, too, including one point where Tulsa takes her foster father's crop duster and crashes it into a barn—causing a huge explosion.

Due to elevated levels of the protein troponin in connection with Gardner's enlarged heart, we see the young man dealing with a number of painful-looking side effects. He has nosebleeds, passes out several times and is said to be on the verge of death in one key moment.

Someone tries to commit suicide by intentionally drowning in the ocean, but is ultimately rescued.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of the English profanity "bloody." That's joined by a single use of "d--n," two of "crap" and several repetitions of the phrase "bad a--." Someone is told to "stop being a d--k."

Drug and Alcohol Content

One of Tulsa's foster parents is an alcoholic who is passed out most of the time. The teen rouses him to go do a job at one point, but he is so out of it that he begs her to fulfill the dangerous task in his place.

Other Negative Elements

Bad choices are made by space agency authority figures in order to cover up earlier bad decisions, and destructive results compound.

In the course of their journeys, Gardner and Tulsa steal money and several vehicles. In fact, theft seems to be Tulsa's default mode of operation in many difficult situations, though Gardner pushes back against that instinct on occasion.

We eventually learn that Tulsa was abandoned as a 4-year-old, and that her life has consisted of bouncing around from one relatively abusive foster home to another (a plot point that doesn't do good foster parents in the real world any favors here).


On the face of things, this flick may appear to be a typical sci-fi tale. But's it's really not that at all. This is a pretty straight-forward teen boy coming-of-age story. Only in this case the emotionally tortured and awkward guy and his impossible high school crush really are from different planets.

There are some solid messages here about a young person's longing for love, family and identity. There are self-sacrificial actions in the slightly futuristic mix. And we even get a finger-wag or two at people who make self-centered choices without thinking about the future pain they could potentially be causing.

Like many a tale of teenage exploration, though, the film also launches into some angsty elements that detract from the movie as a whole. Mars-boy Gardner and Earth-girl crush Tulsa leave a trail of stolen vehicles and smoking, damaged property in their wake when they're not snuggled up romantically in a sleeping bag or relishing the road trip scenery. And the film lightly applauds their lying, rule-breaking and destructive rebelliousness as long as it ultimately leads to truth and love.

That sort of cinematic stuff can be navigable if seen through a metaphoric lens. But teens looking at it as a real-world road map, could find themselves adrift somewhere between here and Mars if they miss the movie's other positive themes.

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