We’ve not really seen a film like Space Station 76 before. Writer/director Jack Plotnick’s future-as-told-from-the-70s look at what we take with us, as humans — no matter the location or destination — is a heartfelt, deadpan, melodramatic, tongue-in-cheek drama with a lot of endearing qualities. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface of the film, but that doesn’t stop the film from being wholly enjoyable and a delight. So we chatted up Plotnick about growing up in the suburbs, the hopes of the 70s for tomorrow, and just how trivial we all, ultimately, are as human beings.
Unfortunately a chunk of our conversation didn’t record (technology is fickle and never perfect, ugh/DAMN IT), but there’s still plenty to enjoy and get out of our wee conversation.
Nerdist: So, Jack, could you tell me what it was in particular that drew you to the 70s for this project?
Jack Plotnick: The genesis of the project was that I had wanted to find a way to explore what it was like to grow up in the suburbs in the 70s, so it was only ever going to take place there. However, artistically I just thought it was more interesting to set it in the future as we had imagined it in the 70s. A.) because as a child I was obsessed with that and all the great sci-fi films of the time, which this movie is an homage to. But on top of that, setting in the future that we dreamed up but actually never came to be, is sort of like this unrealized dream. Emotionally, what was happening in the suburbs who had these dreams of what their life was supposed to be. They followed the rules and got married and moved to the suburbs and had 2.5 children but it didn’t really work out the way people wanted in some circumstances. Sort of a metaphor for unrealized dreams. Setting it on top of a space ship in the middle of nowhere felt like a such great way to dramatize the isolation and claustrophobia of living in the suburbs, you know? It was a way to try and get to the truer heart of what was happening.
Nerdist: Well, when I first started the movie I was admittedly a little apprehensive. I worried, “Is this going to be too corny?” But it makes this interesting allegory for the stasis of our own societal ideals, brought up through those people who grew up in the 70s and had all these dreams and continued to hold onto those dreams even though, at this point, they’re so antiquated and out of touch with reality.
JP: [Laughs] Sure, absolutely, you know the movie is also about how difficult it can be to connect at any time whether its the 70s or now. And I think everybody on that ship is going through that — wanting to connect but being unable to.
Nerdist: That was something I felt super drawn to in the story. This whole idea about how technology and the future were supposed to make things so much better, but at the same time it’s still just as isolating, if not more so, now that we have all of these magical advances.
JP: Oh yeah [laughs], absolutely. I do think that we’ve worked so hard for this technology and it’s actually making it harder for people to connect.
Nerdist: It probably doesn’t help that I was in a very emotional state when I watched the movie, but I was taken aback at just how poignant and endearingly honest it felt in its portrayal of that eternal struggle. How, regardless of what we have around us to try and make things less lonely and isolating, we’re always going to feel that way just because we’re human in our own bodies having our own experience.
JP: I love it, it sounds like you really got it and I appreciate that. And on top of that, it’s kind of like the most honest approach to sci-fi. Because, number one, when we do go up there, it won’t be an attack of aliens or some crazy space adventure. It’s going to be a lot of hanging around and living our lives and the truth about humans is, no matter how advanced we get and no matter how far out in space we might travel, we bring ourselves. It’s “wherever we go, there we are,” you know? And wherever we go there are our petty conflicts and needs and desires that sort of never can be truly fulfilled because there’s always some of that — what’s that K.D. Lang song? “Constant Craving”?
JP: It’s sort of the human condition.
Nerdist: It’s like that line in the beginning of Liv Tyler’s voiceover when she’s talking about us compared to the asteroids and she says “we change, and that’s the problem.” My immediate reaction was “oh my god, what? No! This is too real for this comedic sci-fi movie! What’s happening?!”
JP: [laughs] Totally, I agree, but hopefully that voiceover frames the movie in a way that helps you understand what it’s trying to say beyond the laughs. Hopefully people get that it’s a dark comedy or maybe you could call it tongue-and-cheek drama. There’s plenty to laugh at if you’re willing to laugh in uncomfortable situations and laugh at people’s foibles. That’s my favorite kind of comedy, uncomfortable comedy. I just eat that up. Some of my favorites are ones like [Diablo Cody’s] Young Adult or Todd Solondz’ Happiness. Movies where you’re tackling what’s happening but maybe the person next to you like’s “Oh my god, why are you laughing at that?”
[[Unfortunately here’s where our recorder decided to stop working for 10 minutes — so you’re unfortunately going to miss out on Plotnick and my’s discussion on darker comedy and series and movies that look at dissecting those moments of intimate terror. But trust us that it was very good. Don’t worry, we’re just as sad as you.]]
JP: There’s a deleted scene on the DVD [featuring Misty/actress Marisa Coughlan] that is so terrible, it’s just her with her daughter again, and she’s just misbehaving in such a way.
Nerdist: That whole dynamic with her and her poor daughter Sunshine. She’s just passed around and nobody really knows what to do with her except for Jessica [Liv Tyler], which is so sweet, juxtaposed to her mother’s manipulative machinations.
JP: Kylie [Rodger, the actress who portrays Sunshine] is such a genius little actress and I barely even had to direct her — she just understands scenes in an incredibly mature and insightful way. She represents so many of us who grew up as latchkey kids, whose parents had their lives. And though I think Ted and Misty think they’re doing their best, but, you know — parents have lives, too. And sometimes they’re unaware of how their kid is feeling. I feel like she stands in the film as a surrogate for the audience. If she can survive that crazy environment then so can we. And if you watched the film, you did survive it, but the scene where she bonds with her father was probably one of my absolute favorite moments of the film.
Nerdist: Aww, yes! That was lovely.
JP: She really captured that complete joy that a child can bounce from because they’re so, durable? Is that the right word? I don’t think it is, but.
Nerdist: I know what you’re trying to say but the word is totally escaping me, too. But yes, that! [[Sidenote: I think we both meant resilient.]]
JP: I make a lot of fun of unhealthy parent/child stuff in the film but it’s because, well, I was around some of that misbehavior as a child and I think it’s funny.
Nerdist: It’s funny to see parents just not being parents and the kids just having to deal with it.
JP: You know my stepfather shared with me that when he was growing up the rule was you sent the children out to play, and they weren’t allowed to come back into the house until nighttime. Unless they got hurt! But that was always just the thing and it wasn’t until recently that parents got much more involved in children’s lives. The idea was “they’ll be fine!”
Nerdist: I was born in’86 and that was exactly how my grandparents, who largely raised my siblings and I, saw it, too. But there’s something to that ‘going out on your own’ thing — it makes you very adaptable as a kid. And independent. Like in that scene where Sunshine goes and turns off the gravity in the room and floats around by herself. There’s just a vacillation in her silence of all these different emotions, and it’s all very poignant, how we see her suspended in this moment, seeing her discover and deal with all those feelings and emotions completely by herself without a safety net.
JP: Oh my gosh, that’s so beautifully said. There’s so many things, in my mind, happening in that moment I almost wouldn’t want to tell you because it’s a good moment for people to sit and think about “well, what does this moment me to me?” But I really like what you’re saying because I do think it’s a really powerful moment.
Nerdist: You see that she sees so much promise. I kept being very surprised throughout the film with how poignant the emotional moments were throughout the film.
JP: Oh yeah, well these are incredible, A-List actors. And they’re all doing these incredibly heartfelt but hysterical performances. Really subtle but really funny — everybody just really got the tone of the film and they were really having fun in it, but they’re such good actors you really get wrapped up in their pain and pathos as well. Whenever things get too painful there’s always, hopefully, an absurd moment you can laugh at. Because that’s life, you know?
Nerdist: I feel like the Bots helped a lot with that sort of comic relief interjections every so often.
JP: We just loved DoctorBot. There really must be a toy made.
Nerdist: I would love that. You’ve got a mini DoctorBot on your desk and it’s all “DoctorBot you’re the only one that understands!” and it just starts blinking read lights and warning you “Don’t get too close! You are too attached!”
JP: He’s hysterical! That would be great.
Nerdist: He’s just so indicative of the time and what people wanted out of technology that it was just not quite ready to give us yet.
JP: Yes! … I just dig that period so much. Like the flip clocks — we couldn’t quite figure out how to make them digital yet but we knew they were coming, and so instead we got the flip clock. Like the one Captain Glenn has near his bath.
Nerdist: Oh gosh that scene was so sad, but at the same time, so funny. Like all he wanted to do was end it, electrocute himself in the bath but the system shut it down and took care of it before he could even get hurt. The look on his face, like “Man, I can’t even kill myself right!”
JP: Oh, I know! That poor guy. I think that scene is hysterical, and Patrick [Wilson] is such a funny person. The wonderful thing is that he’s created this very real character and so it’s really funny but so subtle in that moment.
Nerdist: It’s like that whole scene with him and Liv Tyler when they’re yelling at each other, “Why can’t you just be a woman?” “Why can’t you just be a man?” “What does that even mean?!” It’s funny to me, because that thinking is so inherently part of the problem — what does any of that, any of this, even mean? — and yet those ruminations and worries consume us all. He tried, especially, I feel like to try and define himself as this Type-A Man and that’s just not what he was.
JP: Yeah, poor guy. There are so many people in the world who just can’t be who they really are and so they’ve got that internal battle, but I love that Christmas party scene. What’s happening is so horrible and so tense but there’s just so much laughter in that scene, those moments. I’m really happy that it gets so much laughter, because it is so explosive and traumatic for the people involved.
Nerdist: It felt very British. Like when Donna comes in and goes on and on about the cake.
JP: [Laughs] That’s one of my favorite lines; I LOVE that line! Nobody notices or points out that line. Donna’s moving out of the ship and she’s all upset that no one’s throwing her a goodbye party. “It’s a Christmas cake,” and Steve [Jerry O’Connell] goes “Get a drink, Donna.” Talk about trivialities but THAT’S what we’re going to bring to space. We just are. Because wherever we go that shit is on our minds. That’s the kind of stuff that tickles me.
Have you checked out Space Station 76? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!