SPACE & TIME (Shawn Gerrard). 89 minutes. Opens Friday (February 21). See listing. Rating: NNN
It’s unfortunate that Shawn Gerrard’s Space & Time should arrive just as the chatter around Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is dying down. Gerrard’s lo-fi, Toronto-set story of a couple breaking up and figuring out how to exist separately from each other can’t help but feel like a lesser effort.
It’s not Gerrard’s fault that his film follows the same arcs of Baumbach’s divorce dramedy: Baumbach certainly wasn’t the first to use them. The beats of this story are archetypal. But the echoes are unavoidable: both films open with a woman ending her long-term relationship with a man, and then track the fallout of that breakup through both characters’ lives.
Step back, though, and the couple at the heart of Space & Time have their own issues and their own identities. Siobhan (Victoria Kucher) is a physicist at U of T, and Sean (Steven Yaffee) is trying to establish himself as a photographer. They live in the Annex, they’ve been together most of their adult lives and they seem content as they approach 30.
Or are they? Siobhan is restless: she keeps bringing up multiverse theory, speculating about all the other versions of themselves that exist in parallel universes, and wondering if they’re happier. There’s a job posting at CERN. If she gets it, would Sean go to Geneva with her? Would that put them in a better reality?
Sean doesn’t want to think about that stuff: all he knows is this universe, where he’s secure in his love for this version of Siobhan. But she wants out, so she leaves. And Sean is blindsided.
Writer/director Gerrard – whose name, you may notice, is not dissimilar from Sean’s – doesn’t blindside us, though. He spends a little time establishing Siobhan’s unhappiness with domestic life, showing us Sean’s casual neglect even as he makes all the right supportive noises. (Deeds not words, and all that.) And after the breakup, she’s still prickly and quick to anger – but only when people do things that remind her of her ex.
Sean crumples rather than rages, letting others choose the direction of his life while clinging to the vestiges of old relationships. Before Siobhan left, her sister Frances (Alex Paxton-Beesley) had asked if he’d shoot her upcoming wedding is he still going to do that? Why would he want to?
Gerrard – making his first feature after almost a decade working in television – lets the story play out at an unhurried pace, observing as Sean and Siobhan try to move forward, making mistakes and enjoying small triumphs as they go. Kucher and Yaffee are very watchable as Siobhan and Sean, who each have failings they haven’t fully interrogated, but also have qualities that make them worth our investment.
The supporting characters are a little less dimensional – Amy Jo Johnson’s New Agey life coach is little more than a caricature – but I’m going to assume Gerrard is letting us see them through Sean and Siobhan’s eyes. And the script falls a little short on the metaphysical side, never really exploring the multiverse theory that initially seemed so important to Siobhan.
In another universe – one where Space & Time reached theatres a few months before Marriage Story – these issues might not have stood out quite so much. I might have been able to watch Gerrard’s movie as its own thing, rather than noticing all the echoes. And I know that isn’t fair, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.
Maybe you’ll have better luck. Give it a shot.