Release Date: September 1, 2017
Director: Amy Jo Johnson
Runtime: 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
The last two decades has seen the invention, proliferation and exploitation of a particular brand of indie-film quirkiness that is easy to identify when done sincerely and even easier to spot when it is counterfeited for cred.
With their spunky originality, patient-zero films from the mid-to-late 2000s like Juno and 500 Days of Summer, with their sincere silliness, were the progenitors for a film like The Space Between, which – being out of this loop by nearly a decade – plays like the indie film that’s been focus tested for middle-aged moms.
Mixing colorful characters and slightly goofy scenarios with base family drama and a platitude-heavy script functioning undeservedly as emotional depth, the directorial debut of Amy Jo Johnson (of Power Rangers fame) is most readily comparable to a Lifetime ripoff of Little Miss Sunshine.
Complete with a road trip sporting an extended cross-generational family and ending in an unconventional burlesque show that brings them together. The only thing missing was the charm. I assume the neophyte Johnson has great respect for the films of this ilk, given how transparently her own efforts attempts to mimic them with no attention paid to a personality of its own.
The revelation of his child’s true parentage leaves Mitch (Michael Cram) on a supposed journey of self-discovery to confront the college student who impregnated his wife (Sonya Salomaa) while she is left to make what comedy she can with her wacky in-laws (director Amy Jo Johnson, Jayne Eastwood and an absolutely wasted Michael Ironside).
As they use one another as unhealthy emotional crutches and apply easy, fast-acting solutions to their issues as dictated by the utterly airless script, Mitch meets up with another staple of the indie film, the young, twee pixie girl (the actually charming Julia Sarah Stone), whose own emotional damages assist him in his rough patch and allows him to brighten up his dreary outlook through zany spontaneity.
The idea that anything in this film could feel spontaneous is absurd, however, because Johnson has followed the indie film formula so precisely that the entire exercise feels soullessly calculated down to the finest detail. There lies no spark of originality in its heart or a twinge of earnest quirk in its bones; it is merely going through the motions without a solid driving force to alleviate the heavily padded 90-minute runtime.
With a soundtrack meshing more indistinguishable acoustic folk than the film actually has a place for, it strings together dull sequences of soft, edgeless comedy and light, flaky family drama that lacks emotional intensity. The maternal aspects of the film feel genuine coming from Johnson, who is a mother herself, but when she oversteps into indie comedy territory, she exposes herself as a tourist in a land she just fails to grasp. No matter how hard she tries to emulate, The Space Between never finds an identity of its own beneath the cues and styles it takes from other, better films.
I feel Johnson knew accepting her as a director given her past career was no small hurdle, and, in an act of what I can only assume is insecurity, leans into it by having a television in the background of the first scene playing an episode of her series, Power Rangers. Despite the logistical leaps one has to do to accept that a television station in Needleton, Colo., playing a show that ceased broadcasting in 1995, the only way to really read its inclusion is Johnson’s admitting to you that she knows you’re only watching her middle-of-the-road nothing film because you wanted to know if the Pink Ranger could make a movie.
Well to the shock of few, she did, and to the shock of even fewer, is not worth your curiosity.