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The YA film is a trip worth taking
Before anything else, I don't know why this movie is called Moonshot. Nobody goes to the Moon. Nobody talks about the Moon. Nobody even looks at the Moon. I suppose that the concept of a "moonshot," going all-in on a harebrained scheme no matter the odds, is what's being referenced, but it's annoying, because this movie is all about going to Mars. Call your movie Marsshot, we'll still watch it, because it's pretty good!
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'm also ready to accept that the "moonshot" in question is actually about finding yourself, trusting your voice, following your goals. Woof, sounds inspirational. Luckily, this little film (even though it is interplanetary, it is still little) doesn't pile the messages on too thick. It's just a romantic comedy in the Y.A. spirit with a dash of science fiction thrown in.
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The year is 2049 and Walt (Cole Sprouse) is a likable lunkhead who works at a coffee shop with a sass-talking robot boss. He's about to graduate college, has no friends, no luck with women, and no prospects for the future. All he wants is to go to the thriving colony on Mars, but there are no jobs open to him on the Red Planet (he is alarmingly average) and a ticket costs close to a million bucks. Even with future-inflation, that's a lot of dough.
One night he meets a gal named Ginny (Emily Rudd) and there are some sparks. But Walt's enthusiasm for Mars has an unintended effect. She decides to go for it, and travel to Mars on the next day's launch.
Licking his wounds, he bumps into a gal he annoyed earlier at a party, Sophie (Lana Condor). Sophie is also down in the dumps, because her long-distance boyfriend (on Mars!) is going to be up there even longer than expected. Turns out she's got a lot of money, though, and Walt convinces her to buy a ticket. Only this time, he devises a plan to get her to inadvertently aid him in stowing away on the rocket.
Sophie quickly discovers him and, even though she finds him incredibly annoying, agrees to keep him hidden (using the false identity of her true boyfriend). What follows is a stretched-out episode of The Love Boat, with the pair slowly going from pretend romance to a true one, as wacky hijinks ensue.
Of course, Walt lied to Sophie, saying he and Ginny were dating (not that they met a mere few hours before she blasted off) so this truthbomb hovering over them threatens to go off when least expected, in classic Preston Sturges style.
The time aboard the ship is nothing but charming, primarily due to the extraordinary charisma of Lana Condor. Her performance is a bit of a comedic whirlwind, goofy one minute, frustratingly by-the-book the next, and, when you least expect it, tender and warm. What she is not is a typical pixie dream girl; she's in the driver's seat in this dynamic, but not overly pushy. It comes off like a bonafide three-dimensional character. Imagine that.
The other pleasure is how this movie (directed by Christopher Winterbauer and written by Max Taxe) doesn't care too much about being "in the future." There are a few design choices (Sophie wears a Judy Jetson-esque party dress in one great scene) and there's the whole concept of a Martian colony, but beyond that, it's still a very recognizable society. Figuring out gravity on a hotel-sized spaceship? No problem! Getting rid of autocorrect? Not so much.
Zach Braff is also entertaining as an Elon Musk-esque figure and Michelle Buteau is a very funny ship's captain. I won't go so far as to say I was moved to tears by the end, but the romance felt more "real" to me than what I was expecting. It's a trip worth taking.
Premieres: Thursday, March 31 on HBO Max
Who's in it: Lana Condor, Cole Sprouse, Zach Braff
Who's behind it: Greg Berlanti (producer), Christopher Winterbauer (director)
For fans of: YA romance, light sci-fi, Lana Condor