A Romance Shooting for the Stars


Throughout recorded human history, we have looked up to the sky and searched for divinity, fate, and fortune in the unknown. The Soviet Union may have been the first nation to enter space in 1957 during the Cold War, but remarkable progress has been made in space exploration and astronomy. Perhaps that is why billionaires like Jeff Bezos have been trying to find their way into space through their accumulated wealth. The first space crew consisting completely of private citizens has been reported to pay $55 million each for an opportunity to go to space.

Maybe that is why HBO Max came out with their newest movie release, Moonshot. It stars Lana Condor from the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, and Cole Sprouse of Riverdale, as two young adults finding love and solace within each other. But there is a twist here: the two have left behind Earth, which is now considered a haven for garbage, to try and go to Mars in search of their significant others. Other key players in this cast include Mason Gooding, Emily Rudd, Zach Braff, and Michelle Buteau, among others.


In the era where Don’t Look Up has been in a love-hate relationship with audiences and critics alike, HBO Max’s Moonshot has arrived on the scene. Moonshot is not a doomsday scenario, and perhaps it leans a bit towards the humor of another big streaming release, Bigbug, at times, but it instead fuses romantic comedy elements with a dash of science fiction at times. Moonshot does not try to reinvent either genre, but instead fuses them into a movie that might earn a few chuckles here and there.

Escape from Earth

The year is 2049, and assistant barista Walt (Cole Sprouse) has big dreams of going to Mars. At this point in the movie’s timeline, humans have already set foot on the red planet and colonized it. Walt, however, is obsessed with the concept of going to space, making him seem awkward to almost everyone around him, including his robot coworker. It is what also leads him to break the law, sneaking onto a spaceship bound for Mars in pursuit of his astronaut dreams.

However, his plans get complicated when his frenemy Sophie (Lana Condor) discovers him aboard the ship. The two meet at a party at Sophie’s house, and Walt walks in on her video chatting with her boyfriend. Angry, she tells him to get out, but while backing out of the door, he steps on a gift from her boyfriend, shattering it and making her more upset than she already is. She then appears at his work crying, worsening their already-sour relationship when he angers her again, thus making Sophie buy a ticket to Mars out of spite.

Then Walt gets the idea of making his way to Mars by becoming a stowaway on the ship from a cat that snuck aboard a different spaceship. Meanwhile, Sophie’s a Ph.D. student trying to get to Mars to see her boyfriend of eight years, which is why she ends up buying the ticket. Walt knew his girlfriend for exactly a night, making their relationship seem a little suspicious in the books, but he hides this fact from Sophie. Both Sophie and Walt are trying to see their significant others working and living on the planet, which may have been a bonding point if they did not fall into the enemies lovers trope of romantic comedies.

As Walt and Sophie are forced to live in the same room for months, their scenes are loaded with underlying romantic and sexual tension. Between their fighting and squabbling, the chemistry just is not there between the two of them. It feels forced, as their dominant personality traits clash quite a bit, even if they are both fighting for the same thing: love. With its romantic spacewalks and engagement dance parties, there is plenty of room for the story to navigate through the unmarked territory, but it does not do this. Instead, it plays safe, constantly insulting Walter to drive home a point that is not exactly clear if it is humor or discrimination.

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The Grass Isn’t Greener On The Other Side

Girl talks to guy, who turns around to look at something

When our main characters reach Mars, life on the red planet does not unfold the way they expect it to go. While the ship seemed comfortable and safe with its neon lighting and muted colors, the movie’s twist undercuts everything that happened before it. It feels like a play rehearsal, one in which everyone knows that they are an actor except for the main characters. When the movie’s twist uncovers itself upon landing on Mars, it exposes the stakes that were nonexistent this entire time.

Backstories are only brought up about the characters when it is convenient. For example, Sophie tearfully recalls that her parents died when she was a teenager, providing a convenient explanation as to why she is so attached to her boyfriend’s (Mason Gooding) family. The only character whose story is relevant is Walter’s, but, at the same time, it is used against him constantly by those who dub him inferior. Even his robot boss looks down on him, thus reinforcing this social and class barrier created in the world of the movie.

If there are some key takeaways from Moonshot, one of them is definitely never meet your heroes in real life, lest you want to leave the encounter sorely disappointed. This comes into play especially if they are glorified billionaires. However, Hidden deep within the plot, are some pretty profound statements reflective of contemporary society, no matter what planet or country one lives in today. From environmental discrimination to tones of classism, the movie is packed with some philosophical debates and questions for its audience.

Walt applies to the space program to go to Mars a whopping thirty-seven times, and every single time he has been rejected and cannot afford to pay close to a million dollars for a commercial ticket. Sophie, however, reveals she is not your average grad student and has two million dollars on hand. Walt lives with a roommate in a tiny room, while Sophie lives with a supposed trust fund baby inside a very large and elaborate home. It hits a bit harder when Sophie confronts Walt and says, “Don’t act like our situations are remotely the same,” then says his existence is average.

On the other hand, billionaires sending students to Mars are also sending their trash back to Earth, making this scenario more reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Wall-E. Unfortunately, this is a real-life scenario. With this implication that Earth is a “garbage-filled place” that Walt wants to escape, especially when he is set up to be a character that works multiple jobs and extensive students loans, Mars is established as an upper-class haven. This haven is only for those living inside the wealth bubble there; people like Walt are put to work, thus bringing his dream that Mars is this beautiful place to an end.

And perhaps this is a meditation on the American Dream, but it is overshadowed by the exaggerated rom-com elements. Nothing changes for the characters except for their relationships with each other, nor do they grow as human beings. Thus, the rich continue a long-term game including Earth and Mars, while privileged students attain the chance to enter this exclusive club on a different planet. It is revealed that Sophie’s dream is to figure out how to make a plant that will eat up all the garbage on Earth, so there is some hope for the planet’s future, but that will not be observed during this run time.

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An Ambitious Take

Two astronauts stare at Mars

Moonshot is a film that tries to shoot for the stars, but its characters fall into archetypes, especially as its main characters make an unlikely couple. The stakes are quite low throughout the movie, relying too much on Sophie and Walt’s romantic journey to progress the story. Even if Walt is caught on the spaceship, the only real threat to them is that they may be sent back to Earth. This over-reliance on suspension of disbelief on the viewer’s part may add to the movie’s charm but leans a tad too ambitious.

The movie did have potential, especially when considering Lana Condor and Cole Sprouse seem like proper fits for their roles. They have shown in their previous work that they are capable of these kinds of storylines, but Moonshot does not land when it comes to execution. Moonshot is currently available to stream exclusively on HBO Max as of March 31, 2022. In the mood to binge-watch some other romantic comedies? Check out these nineties romantic comedies, or an explanation as to why they are so popular.


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