Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
Like The Ice Storm but set in outer space circa the early ’70s, Space Station 76 charts the loneliness, alienation, and romantic longing of a group of astronauts working on an intergalactic outpost sometime in the unspecified future. Led by mustached, boozy captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson), the station’s inhabitants are a dysfunctional bunch. The strained marriage of mechanic Ted (Matt Bomer) and nutritionist Misty (Marisa Coughlan) is compounded by the latter’s horrid parenting skills with their daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers), and also by her not-so-clandestine affair with Steve (Jerry O’Connell), a new father who’s married to the materialistic Donna (Kali Rocha). The close-quarters conflict is exacerbated by the arrival of Jessica (Liv Tyler), whose position as co-pilot threatens the chauvinistic Glenn, and who soon finds herself drawn to—and subtly wooed by—the unhappy Ted.
If all of that sounds like a rather familiar set-up of screwy interpersonal dynamics, director Jack Plotnick treats his material with a deft mixture of somber seriousness and nostalgic period-piece goofiness. Be it Ted and Jessica bonding over his secret stash of marijuana (which he grows in the greenhouse quarters), or Misty venting her frustrations and unhappiness to a therapist robot that dispenses nothing but stock clichés based on keywords she speaks, Plotnik manages to grapple with real emotional turmoil via scenes often predicated on the ridiculousness of sci-fi gadgets and accouterments, which also include silly outfits (the best: Misty’s bikini beneath a flowing rainbow-hued robe) and even sillier techno-gizmos. At once a spoof of, and loving tribute to, ’70s-era visions of the future, Space Station 76 nods to 2001 in numerous ways (including a cameo from its star, Keir Dullea, as Jessica’s video conferencing-inept dad). Yet ultimately, its humor and pathos are most fully embodied by Patrick Wilson’s Glenn, a closeted, chain-smoking weirdo who—whether subtly shooing away Sunshine with a cigarette or cannily outsmarting the therapist ’bot—comes across as a hilarious homage to another fictional ’70s hero: Ron Burgundy.
Availability: Space Station 76 is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, or to rent or purchase from the major digital services.