Light spoilers below for Ad Astra.
In Ad Astra, Brad Pitt plays a distractingly hot astronaut with the unlikely name of “Roy” who’s charged with finding his unhinged father (Tommy Lee Jones) in deep space and subsequently saving the planet. Roy is a classic tortured hero, with a face that makes an unbeatable argument for the proliferation of the human species and a mind so troubled and opaque that we must spend two hours drilling into it. Roy (I’m still not over “Roy,” but I guess I have to keep typing it like it’s normal), who has been deeply damaged by his absentee dad, proudly admits that he doesn’t rely on anyone and doesn’t need anything from his fellow human beings. In fact, he hides from everyone: his fellow astronauts, his family, himself. Most of all, he hides from his wife, a woman named Eve played by Liv Tyler.
Eve appears almost exclusively via flashback — giggling beneath covers or staring stonily at her emotionally remote husband from across a room. Sometimes she pops up in the back of blurry frames, looking disappointed. Once in a while, she appears in little video messages that Roy replays on his phone when he’s feeling guilty. In his review at The Atlantic, David Sims generously refers to the role of Eve as “largely undercooked.” I would describe the role as what happens before you cook something, when it is merely an idea in your mind and you haven’t even bought the ingredients yet, and then you get tired and don’t really want to go to the store, so you stay home and order Seamless, and that Seamless is really bad, but you eat it anyway.
Eve has, liberally, five lines. Some of them are unintelligible, barely making it through the damaged goop of Roy’s mind. Only one line, which she speaks aloud during her video message, is memorable: “I have my own life,” she tells Roy. “I’m my own person. I can’t just wait for you.” It is through this line that we understand that Eve has left Roy and is not just a Sad, Dead Movie Wife. Eve doesn’t have any other similarly explanatory lines in the film, and therefore, we have no idea what’s going on with her. What does Eve do for a living? What does Eve want from life? Does Eve have any allergies to medication? I don’t know! Meanwhile, Ad Astra dedicates several scenes to the resting heart rate of Roy, who spends the duration of the movie punching monkeys and taking illegal rocket-ship rides.
This is not, in any way, a knock on Liv Tyler. Liv Tyler is a goddess — perhaps, as my colleague Madeleine Aggeler has recently posited, the creator herself. I’m sure she had her reasons for starring as Flashback Space Wife, and I’m positive that if she were given even a fraction of Brad’s onscreen time she would have been able to create a rich internal life for Eve. But watching Ad Astra, I was reminded of another wild misuse of Liv Tyler, in a quiet little indie film from 1998 called Armageddon.
I’m kidding, of course; Armageddon is a movie wherein gigantic grown men wax poetic about the beauty of drilling massive holes into the Earth and say things like, “Let’s chew this iron bitch up.” At one point, during what’s meant to be a tear-jerking speech, Bruce Willis says, “I’ve been drilling holes in the Earth for 30 years, and I’ve never missed a depth I was aiming for.” Nobody laughs. Later, during a pivotal scene that involves several deep-core drillers wildly pounding their way into an asteroid, one yells, “I’m pushing through her! I’m pushing through her!” Anyway, Liv Tyler is also in this movie. She plays Bruce Willis’s daughter, Grace, who was raised on an oil rig and is now, much to Bruce Willis’s chagrin, engaged to one of his younger co-workers, played by a distressingly sharp-cheekboned Ben Affleck.
Liv gets a few good scenes in Armageddon, but throughout most of Michael Bay’s hypermasculine urtext, Liv Tyler is pacing and crying. (Occasionally, she also stands meaningfully in front of an American flag.) She paces while her dad and boyfriend are sent to space to save the world from a massive asteroid. She cries while her boyfriend goes missing for a few hours. She paces while her dad decides he will blow himself up inside the asteroid because the nuclear bomb’s little button broke. She cries when she learns the mission was successful.
At one point, Liv is allowed to do one more thing: She lies in the grass while Ben Affleck makes little animal crackers dance around on her boobs. What I am trying to tell you is that in Armageddon, Liv Tyler has to put up with Ben Affleck getting crackers all over her boobs. She has to witness the violent death of her father while everyone around her cheers. She has to stay inside a NASA control center for several days in the same dress. She does not get to shower. And despite being just as qualified as the oil drillers she grew up around, she does not even get to go to space!
At one point, one of the NASA employees says to Liv Tyler, “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.” She looks at him, furious. “I don’t have anywhere else to go!” she says.
I have a suggestion for where else she could go: space. Why won’t anybody let Liv Tyler go to space??? (Okay, sure, in 2014, she was in a little-seen 1970s-era farce about a space station, but this doesn’t count, because nobody saw it.) I want to see Liv Tyler in a serious space movie where her ambitions are given as much weight as men named Roy. I want Liv Tyler to drill through an asteroid with a phalluslike instrument and zero sense of irony. I want Liv Tyler to pull out a machine gun in space and have people say, “Oh, man. What are you doing with a gun in space?” I want Liv Tyler to say, with the gravity of a lunatic medieval king, “Bring out the Judge.” I want Liv Tyler to override the override. I want Liv Tyler on a dune buggy, recklessly cannonballing herself across asteroid caverns. I want Liv Tyler to openly despise her young son’s “roughneck” girlfriend, but then, during her final moments, say, “I love you! You were always like a daughter to me.”
Instead of a NASA employee turning to Liv Tyler after her boyfriend, Ben Affleck, saves the world and saying, “Your boyfriend’s back,” I want someone to turn to Ben Affleck, whose girlfriend, Liv Tyler, just saved the world, and say, “Your girlfriend is back.” And then I want Liv Tyler to crumble thousands of animal crackers all over Ben Affleck, just so he knows how it feels.
In Ad Astra, Liv Tyler’s Eve shows up once more, near the end of the film. You get the sense — and only the sense, because, again, she does not speak! — that she’s going to forgive Roy for ignoring her and then leaving her on Earth for a really long time to go chasing after his daddy. It is the most disappointing part of the movie. I’d hoped instead that Ad Astra would reveal to us that Eve didn’t sit quietly in her suburban home, but instead chased Roy to space, followed him all the way to Neptune. I’d hoped that Ad Astra would reveal that just as Roy barreled down toward Neptune, he turned around and saw Eve behind him, laughing maniacally. Eve, hair billowing majestically inside of her space suit, sat proudly on top of a thousand-pound drill (a drill was not required in the film and the mechanics of this are complicated, but bear with me). She looked Roy directly in the face (through their helmets, of course) and smiled, revving the drill like a motorbike. “Let’s chew this iron bitch up,” she said.