Tell me we’re watching a movie about space and I’m going to be on board. Tell me it’s set in the future as seen through the eyes of the 70s, and I admittedly grow a little weary. But if you make a 70s-tinged space nostalgi-dramedy and it turns out like Space Station 76? Well then, color me intrigued. Because Jack Plotnick’s bountiful comedy about life and loneliness and the human condition is a special kind of film: all at once familiar yet wholly unique in its tone, tenor, and vision. To say nothing of how poignant its emotional sentiment. This one might surprise you, folks.
Starring a cavalcade of favorites — Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Matt Bomer, Jerry O’Connell — Plotnick’s film is an homage to those 70s suburban dreams of the future…in particular our dreams of space. Oh, that final frontier; that great big endless odyssey in the sky. That place where everything, surely, will change for us, right? Our priorities and wants and dreams? HA. Please.
We’re still humans, after all. Beautifully messy, trivial, at-times narcissistic humans. Of course it won’t.
Here’s the general gist: the story generally follows Jessica (Tyler) — the newest staff member for the station, replacing a man (in a cameo appearance from Glee‘s Matthew Morrison) with whom Captain Glenn (Wilson) and his beautiful mustache had a very secret romance. But Captain Glenn is a deeply unhappy dude who’s also living quite broodily in his glass closet, drinking to forget and getting angry at the drop of a hat. The dissatisfaction isn’t his alone, though: Ted (Bomer), his wife Misty (Marisa Coughlan), her materialistic friend Donna (Kali Rocha), and her husband Steve (O’Connell) all suffer their fair share of the stuff — and the story tumbles out from there. But even with the melodrama and comedic elements, there’s a deep sense of sincerity to performances happening on-screen.
The film ebbs and flows out of its easily parodied ideas, but stays completely sincere in its emotional quotient, with nods aplenty to the space-age flicks that came before it (including but not limited to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Logan’s Run) keeping things light rather than heavy. I mean, there’s a doctor-robot that dispenses Valium with utter glee — well, as much glee as a machine could muster.
But within that story, and couched by those ideals, is a heck of a lot of fruitful allegory and comedy. Will this land for everyone as a solid enough through-line for a film? Perhaps not, but that’s the nature of filmmaking. Don’t come to the Space Station 76 party looking for camp-ified glory days or something Showgirls-y but in space (although we would see that, not going to lie), because that’s not this film. Omega 76 itself, the crew’s home, is a lonely, fairly empty, and sorta sad place, honestly. The stasis of the ship itself — its churning, constant movement without actual, well, movement — could very easily be seen as an allegory for the stasis of our own societal ideals. The dream for the future of the 70s doesn’t work anymore — we’ve changed too much, and now we have to deal.
Overall, Space Station 76 is unlike most of the films out there. If you’re looking for something different with a bit of heart and can find humor in our mundane trivialness, then you’re going to enjoy this one.
Space Station 76 is in theaters and on DVD now. It’s also available on many VOD formats to get to steppin’!