Austin Film Festival (AFF) – On paper, Spaghetti Junction has potential. The teenage protagonist is so lonely that she befriends an alien desperate to get back home and save his planet. It’s never quite clear if the alien is real or a product of the lead’s imagination. Regardless, it’s an interesting premise. The problem is in the execution, which becomes so outlandish that it’s hard to take this friendship between a teenage girl and an alien all that seriously.
Cate Hughes plays August, a lonely girl whose mom died in a car accident. August was a skilled gymnast but lost her leg in the accident. So, she’s denied her one true passion. To complicate matters, August’s dad is so stricken by grief that he’s a royal screw-up, to the point that his beloved truck gets repossessed. Meanwhile, August’s sister, Shiny (Eleanore Miechkowski), isn’t exactly best pals with her little sis. In fact, she spends most of her time with her loser boyfriend, Antonio (Jesse Gallegos). This guy is so sickening that he constantly makes passes and flirts with August, who is underage.
August finds escape from her loneliness after she encounters a nameless being, played by Tyler Rainey. She meets him in a cave after she follows a trail of white flowers to the alien’s hiding spot. She soon learns that he landed on her planet to find a cure for a disease that’s swallowing up whole star systems. Yep. That’s about as silly as it sounds. He needs a map to return to his planet and save the other beings. This sends August on a bizarre journey to find the mapmaker, who lives on Earth as a preacher.
This film works best when it’s more grounded in reality and focuses on a sad teenager who desperately wants a friend because she feels like an outcast within her own family after her mother died. The acting is generally solid, especially from Hughes and Cameron McHarg, who does well playing a character trying to keep his family together after losing his wife. However, it’s the backstory about the alien and his quest that really derails this film. The most interesting bits here are rooted firmly on Earth, on this dysfunctional family who has no one else but each other.
There are also touches of some beautiful cinematography in this film too, especially during August’s surreal dreams and scenes where she wanders in the forest, drawn to the cave where the being resides. These shots are both stunning and poetic. Still, it’s not enough to make up for the bizarre sci-fi journey that consumes the second half of this film.
Spaghetti Junction is Kirby McClure’s debut film. Like a lot of debuts, it’s uneven. It’s never quite sure if it wants to be a film rooted in realism, centered around an isolated teenage protagonist with troubled home life, or a film that really leans into sci-fi. The two elements never quite mesh well. When this film morphed into a story about an alien needing a map on a quest to save the galaxy, that’s when it lost me. This is a film that should have stayed on Earth.
Spaghetti Junction reviewed as part of our Austin Film Festival (AFF) coverage.
5 Out of 10