Space Station 76 is the intergalactic future as imagined in the 1970s. The science-fiction parody about dysfunctional couples on a spaceship has a terrific cast and some enjoyable moments, but unfortunately lacks an overall narrative.
The story focuses on unhappy couples and unhappy singles in soap opera-type fashion. When wholesome, lonely “Jessica” (Liv Tyler) joins the spaceship team to help closeted-gay “Captain Glen,” (Patrick Wilson) all of their insecurities and secrets bubble to the surface. Jessica, who can’t bear children, forms an unlikely friendship with seven-year-old “Sunshine” (Kylie Rogers) who wanders the white corridors to escape her fighting parents, “Misty” (Marisa Coughlan) and “Ted” (Matt Bomer). Misty, an insecure, blonde bimbo hopped up on Valium, is having an affair with her husband’s friend “Steve,” (Jerry O’Connell) a new father in a passionless marriage with debutante wife “Donna” (Kali Rocha). But Misty’s husband Ted, the drop-dead-gorgeous space worker with a robotic hand, doesn’t take notice since he has his eye on other women, particularly his new pot-smoking buddy, Jessica.
The best thing about Space Station 76 is the allusion to how far we’ve come in technological advances since the 70s. All of the nods to the Nixon-era, from Glen recording a hologram message on a VHS tape to Donna clicking through round slides on her Viewmaster, are humorous and nostalgic enough to make it enjoyable. But the darker elements of the technological advances shift the tone back and forth from satire to serious. Captain Glen, who Patrick Wilson portrays as a sexually frustrated Ron Burgandy-type on the edge of suicide, tries to kill himself many times but the smart technology won’t let him. He tries to drop an electric radio into the bathtub, but the spaceship, seeing as there’s a power overload, shuts the system down and there’s no harm done. Is this a message to the 2014 audience that our smart phones will soon be smarter than we are? I don’t know. I was unsure what message Space Station 76 was trying to send.
One of the most endearing parts of the slow-moving film was “Sunshine,” the cutest little girl with moon-shaped glasses and a heart of gold. She takes to Jessica’s kindness and tells her mother, “I’ve never had a friend.” The way Kylie Rogers delivers certain lines makes you want to jump into the screen and take her away from her immature, jealous mother. The rest of the impressive cast does an equally great job of humanizing their characters, especially Liv Tyler’s Jessica from Spaceship Lorelai, (the name of her former spaceship can’t be coincidental since Liv Tyler looks very similar to actress Lauren Graham, who famously played Lorelai Gilmore for seven years. Maybe it’s coincidental or maybe it’s one of the five writers seeing the exact same resemblance I did).
Space Station 76 almost felt like an episode of a television show somewhere in the middle of season two or three. It was not necessarily a bad film, it just felt out of place somehow. There needed to be more background as to what they were doing on this spaceship and how they got there. If this were an episode (granted, a very long 94 minute episode) it would have made sense, but because it was a feature-length film, there needed to be more of a direct narrative: a beginning, a middle, and an end with things happening. Otherwise, aside from a few humorous scenes, it left me shrugging my shoulders, unsure of what the point was or what message they were trying to send.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (9/19/14)
Photo: Patrick Wilson as “Captain Glen” seeking help from Dr. Bot.
Q: Does Space Station 76 pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes. The scenes between well-meaning Jessica and soccer-mom-from-hell Misty were more so about raising children than the men in their lives. The jealousy Misty has over Jessica’s connection with Sunshine elevates as the film progresses. When Sunshine is happy about making a friend, Misty tries to sever their bond right away by saying Jessica ate all the sundaes and there are none left. Sunshine, smarter than her mother at seven years old says, “It’s just a sundae” to which Misty replies, “Whose side are you on?” … Mother of the year.