“Are you sure you aren’t nauseous?” Houston asks Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) during “Gravity.” She might not be, but we are. Between the spinning cinematography and the sentimental dialogue, it’s hard not to leave the movie with your stomach (or at least your eyes) rolling.
The premise for “Gravity” is intriguing — what if you became detached from your space shuttle and left to free float completely alone — but the idea aimlessly drifts like the astronaut tumbling through space. Stone is the mission specialist on her first spacewalk along with veteran commander Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) when debris from a Russian satellite destroys their shuttle and hopes for survival. Yes, that’s right, the villain in this film is satellite debris. As if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, Stone and Kowalski play astronaut musical chairs by hopping from shuttle to shuttle in attempt to get back home alive. The film alternates between moments of introspection that try hard to be poignant but are ultimately boring and showdowns between Stone and the satellite debris.
We are supposed to be rooting for them, but their back stories are as thin as the oxygen left in their helmets. Kolwalski is a charmer full of crazy anecdotes and pep talks, so Clooney is basically playing himself. The debris have more personality than Stone, though. She’s a workaholic researcher who lost her daughter in a freak accident. There’s not much for her to return to on Earth, so why should we care about her? She doesn’t seem to either and spends half the film nearly hyperventilating to suicide. When Kolwalski and Stone speak, the dialogue is almost as cliche as a bad disaster movie and laughable, cutting the hard-earned tension in all the wrong ways.
But this film isn’t about the acting (and it’s not really Clooney and Bullock’s fault that their roles are so flat), it’s about the visuals. Director Alfonso Cuarón has always had a flair for style over story, and he takes it to an extreme in “Gravity.” We float, flip and crash through space along with Stone as we see the view through her helmet. At best, we feel like we’re in a really beautiful video game. At worst, it’s downright disorienting. In all seriousness, skip this movie if you’re easily prone to motion sickness.
“Gravity” asks a lot of the big questions: What does it mean to be truly alone? How do we cope with loss? How and why do we try to survive? Yet its grandiose visuals don’t make up for its minimalist answers.