Actor, Jack Plotnick took to the director’s chair for his feature film debut here, with this oddity, a sci-fi comedy drama set in a space station in the 70’s. Think of a retro soap opera in space, with a decent cast and some really fun and cute set design (and robot design for that matter) and you’ll be close to imagining what Space Station 76 is all about.
We meet the residents of space station 76, a refuelling satellite close to an alternative Earth in 1976. We meet Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson), an angry, drunken and hostile man with an inner turmoil relating to his personal life, a turmoil that has an effect on his job performance. Jessica (Liv Tyler) joins the station as the new first mate, and meets, as we do, the people who live there, from Ted (Matt Bomer), a married though lonely engineer, his daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers), his wife and Sunshine’s mother, Misty (Marisa Coughlan), who is a self-centred and jealous women who has a poisonous way about her, and others. It’s a place filled with drama and envy, love and heartbreak and robot therapists who offer insightful Wikepedia-esque advice to the crewmates who are struggling with life on the station for whatever reason. The main story follows Jessica as she learns the ropes of her new role and finds out who is, and who isn’t, to be trusted on the space station she now calls her home.
Reminiscent of a 70’s sit-com at times, but with elements of sci-fi from that time thrown in, it’s an interesting concept and one that I thought worked in many ways, and floundered in others. Liv Tyler is very good here, the character we follow, identify with and sympathise with what she’s experiencing, she drives the story forward as we watch her relationships with the various station residents unfold. Wilson, as Captain Glenn, is a character that had potential but sadly fell into a dated and jokey formula that felt like it belonged in a sketch comedy program and not a movie. Given more depth and a little less arrogance, he may have been a character that worked better, but he fell flat for me much of the time, though Wilson’s performance was good, and there were some decent laughs brought to the table by his involvement in certain scenes. The downfall of the film is highlighted in what I’m saying here really. It is really Liv Tyler’s film, there is little going on with many of the other characters, and while Sunshine and Ted are given time to develop, and aren’t awful, they should have offered more to the story, and it shouldn’t have merely been about Tyler’s Jessica alone.
The design of the station, the rooms in it, the robots and the costumes is something I thought was done really well and I had fun with it. I have come across a few reviews from people who found nothing to like about this film, and that surprises me. It’s a low budget movie but with the budget it had at its disposal I feel like it made the most of it, and while there is a lacking in the development and importance of the characters, and the story itself is fairly plain and simple, it gains traction when it comes to the design, the interactions and the burst of well penned humour that come out of nowhere from time to time. It isn’t perfect, but it is one I enjoyed. Flawed but fun, it is one not to be taken seriously but rather just a time-waster that can be, if you like this kind of thing, very entertaining.