Movie Review: Space Station 76 (2014)
What if the world had taken a different turn and Space had become part of our everyday lives? What if this had happened in the 60s or 70s and a world of cheese fondue, yacht rock and velour was how the bold new frontier was being explored? Space Station 76 takes us into an alternate reality where the flares and polyester are de rigueur.
On the face of it, life is seemingly good on Space Station 76, an outpost of the human race’s spreading populace, but when a new officer arrives in the shape of ‘Jessica’ (Liv Tyler), the fragile nature of the relationships within the station are pushed to breaking point. At the heart of the station is ‘Captain Glenn’ (Patrick Wilson), a morose loner who is clearly hiding a secret. Surrounding him is a collection of dysfunctional characters such as the loveless couple ‘Ted’ and ‘Misty’ (Matt Bomer and Marisa Coughlan), whose marriage appears only to be holding together for the sake of their daughter, ‘Sunshine’ (Kylie Rogers), despite ‘Misty’s’ terrible attitude towards motherhood. Complicating this marriage is ‘Misty’s’ affair with ‘Steve’ (Jerry O’Connell), a new father in a clearly tense and conservative marriage to ‘Donna’ (Kali Rocha), who is ridiculously materialistic. Unwittingly, the hard working, conscientious and honest ‘Jessica’ manages to inflame all these situations, setting off a sequence of social dominos that no one can avoid.
The 1970s setting of the film has been perfectly realised, with all the trappings you would expect and although the stageplay roots of this story are perceptible, the jump to film is a very successful one. The advantages of SFX and the new options available (compared to a stage production) have been taken, adding to the overall effect of the material. This makes it far less staid and static than it could have been and allows the world to come to life much more convincingly. Part Anchorman, part The Ice Storm, and part Dark Star, Space Station 76 is a stylish melodrama which both plays with the setting and the typical plotlines, but with a definite dark streak.
Despite the relatively light façade, this dark streak is still highly visible, through themes of alienation, loneliness, desire, as well as elements highlighting social mobility and gender politics. Quite often these are used in the context of the 70s, but they transcend that era too, to point at our own reality as well as the alternate one portrayed here. Parody it may be in parts, there is also a rich vein of black humour, laced with some serious points within.
Patrick Wilson is brilliant as the drunken and bitter Captain, like an interstellar ‘Ron Burgundy’, albeit with a more bittersweet flavour. Liv Tyler is a great foil for him too. She plays the sense of honesty, innocence and dedication in her character very well, giving the centre of the film a solid foundation as these two single entities collide with the social mess of the other characters. Kali Rocha is especially good as the materialistic ‘Donna’ and, equally, Kylie Rogers deserves praise for her portrayal of the patient and trusting daughter in the centre of an emotional mess.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to get before I watched Space Station 76. I was half expecting a poor quality parody that would quickly become embarrassing, but I was very pleasantly surprised that it far exceeded those expectations. Not only were the performances good and the content funny, but the attention to detail was explemplary. Scifi fans will find the film full of little nods to other genre fare, and familiar tropes being knowingly utilised, giving it a playful edge. I would recommend that you hunt this one out, as generally, this is a film that is difficult not to like.