In Moonshot, the age-old tale of boy meets girl gets a sci-fi twist when the girl, Ginny (Emily Rudd), leaves for Mars and the boy, barista Walt (Cole Sprouse), stows away on a spaceship to follow her. It’s a choice that’ll change his life forever but not in the way he expects. See, this isn’t their love story. And that’s where Moonshot really delivers. Although Walt might think that following a girl he’s just met into space is romantic, it’s actually just unhinged. And his one-time customer turned space-crime-accomplice, Sophie (Lana Condor), isn’t afraid to tell him that. But before we get there, the pair will have to go on a charming enemies to lovers journey through deep space. While it might be a little predictable, the brilliant production design, delightful Condor, and goofy Sprouse make it the kind of adventure you’ll want to go on again and again.
Set in a near future world where an Elon Musk style billionaire, Leon Kovi (Zach Braff), has colonized Mars, Moonshot follows Walt. He’s always dreamed of going into space. His job as a barista doesn’t fulfill him and his only friend is his (hilarious) managerial robot boss, Gary. Exploring the inevitable mundanity of the future is always interesting but can focus too much on beige aesthetics and stark sci-fi tropes. Moonshot belies those expectations. It creates a tactile, neon world, joyfully colorful and bright.
After an unexpected night with a stranger, Ginny, Walt concocts a scheme to join her on Mars and uses Sophie to help him do it. Soon, the pair is in space and Sophie must help Walt, lest she catch the blame for his stow-awaying.
Director Chris Winterbauer brings a shimmering magic to the space exploration. Magic that fills us with the childlike wonder that both Walt and Sophie experience. Writer Max Taxe has fun introducing us to two couldn’t-be-less-alike leads. Sprouse’s Walt is goofy to the point of being a himbo, though his classic rom-com lack of integrity means he just misses the himbo mark.
On the other hand, Condor’s Sophie is intelligent, kind, funny, and self-possessed. If you’ve seen To All the Boys I Loved Before then you’ll know Condor is a born leading woman, and she proves that again here. Sophie is the heart of the film, which means Condor’s performance is the most important thing in Moonshot. She carries it throughout with a smile, quip, and infinite charm. It helps that the supporting cast are almost as charming. Michelle Buteau as Captain Tartar gives a performance so good that she demands a spin-off.
Moonshot also feels like a rom-com with a realistic central conflict hidden inside the high concept setup. Sophie has a loving if not overly effusive longterm boyfriend, Calvin ( the lovely Mason Gooding), who lives on Mars already and is the reason she’s leaving her beloved home planet, Earth. Her conflicting feelings about embracing security and sticking with the familiar versus wanting to follow her own path are infinitely relatable. And Condor makes them even more so.
It’s also a rather kind movie in that Gooding is never a villain, which makes Sophie’s quest for happiness even harder. Instead, he’s thoughtful, supportive, and charming. But like so many young couples growing into adulthood, their paths have diverged. Honestly the characterizations and setup are so good it almost feels like a shame this wasn’t a miniseries.
Something else Moonshot excels at is making low stakes slice-of-life storytelling engaging. This is a tale about friendship, self-discovery, and family in all its forms, but it’s also about a chill slacker and a straight-A student hanging out on a pretty spaceship! And sometimes that’s all we need. If you’re not a lover of rom-coms this is unlikely to change that, but there are some truly breathtaking moments. Taxe also does a great job subtly challenging some of Walt’s behavior. It’s hardly radical but it’s nice to see the “stalking equals love” trope be called out here. As the film comes to its close, the burgeoning new relationship feels organic and real. In the end, Moonshot wants you to remember the real adventure was the friends you made along the way.
Moonshot lands on HBO Max on March 31.