starring Cate Hughes, Cam McHarg, Eleanore Miechkowksi, Tyler Rainey
written and directed by Kirby McClure
The Boston Underground Film Festival runs from March 22-March 26, 2023. Click here for more info.
by Walter Chaw A spirited, earnest, decidedly kitchen-sink pastiche of John Carpenter's Starman, Kirby McClure's Spaghetti Junction sports a game cast engaged in a scattershot project too distracted to land. I found it to be a lot like talking to someone on cocaine. Which is to say, I don't think it's about nothing, only that whatever it's focused on for a moment is the most important thing there ever was--but then the moment passes, supplanted by the actual most important thing there ever was. You can follow it, but I'm not convinced the juice is worth the squeeze. Recent amputee August (Cate Hughes), trying not to be a burden to struggling single-dad Dave (Cameron McHarg), is doing her best to get along with rebellious older sister Shiny (Eleanore Miechkowski). Dad wants Shiny to take August with her everywhere, but Shiny just wants to be alone with her loser boyfriend, Antonio (Jesse Gallegos). Though Dad's motivated by guilt over the car accident that took August's foot, August is eager to move on with mastering her prosthetic and trying to be seen whole... At least, that's what I think is motivating her. As Spaghetti Junction doesn't really articulate the point, I wonder if it was avoided on purpose. Bolstering the read of this as a disability melodrama, Antonio does call August a "cripple" out of frustration at her being a persistent cockblock, but she's not there to hear it and Shiny doesn't object, so...whatever you take from the disability subplot of the film, if there is one, depends on whatever inference you're willing to make from the information provided.
One night, on the way home from a lot of bickering and an aborted bowling trip, August needs to take a piss and demands the trio pull over in the middle of the woods, leading to her discovery of the mysterious Traveler (Tyler Rainey), who's hiding out in an abandoned tunnel. The Traveler has perhaps taken over the body of a missing kid, or the missing kid was always an alien in human form, or the missing kid is a blissed-out weirdo junkie who, in the process of getting August high on his junk, convinces her to participate in his delusions. He has an address he needs to get to, blue power in his palm, and an endless supply of cosmic tweak-out monologues that are either improvised or written to sound like the monotonal ramblings of a first-year cosmology student trying to impress a girl at a kegger. Once home, Dave's truck gets repossessed, and Dave is eventually laid off. This suggests embedded commentary about money insecurity or the wealth gap or the lack of social safety nets for blue-collar workers, but if so, it, too, is reliant on whatever inference you're willing to make. Spaghetti Junction is either a film about a wounded young woman creating a fantasy in which she's the caretaker of an immensely powerful being instead of a pain in the ass for people who have nothing or a story about how the weakest among us are saddled with the greatest sense of altruism and philanthropy.
What it's not about is why Shiny acts the way she does and, by comparison, why August acts the way she does. The family dynamic as presented has each of the daughters regard their father drastically differently despite the father being a generally decent sort who appears to behave consistently towards the two of them, hates the demon boyfriend, and does his best with limited resources. Shiny and Antonio have a plan, by the way, to make some giant drug score, thus financing their Steve Earle song of an escape from their Atlanta backwater, though I was never clear on whether that's a real thing or a tragic plot doomed to fail or a flat-out lie. And if it's a lie, who's telling it. There's a ceasefire of sorts between Dave and Shiny at the end, but then Shiny leaves and wishes Dave luck with regards to finding August (who's boarded a bus to Chicago with the Traveler to rendezvous with the mothership), which doesn't seem like a detente so much as Shiny continuing to be an ungrateful little girl making a terrible mistake, now with her father's blessing. What of the cathartic burst of violence visited upon Antonio, never to be redressed? Is this another fantasy? Has this all been about August losing her mind post-accident? Spaghetti Junction has a number of open-ended developments, is what I'm trying to say, and while there's nothing wrong with an oblique narrative, I have a tough time with movies weighed down by both too much plot and nothing to say. Even the conclusion is a continuation of a fantasy or confirmation of a science-fictional reality, but whatever happens, is it a good thing for August or representative of an irrecoverable loss for her? A metaphor for healing or a metaphor for her wounding? I suppose you could say it's both; I guess I'm saying it's neither. I fear Spaghetti Junction seems mysterious when it's merely a jumble. Although popular wisdom says it's not, it is possible to herd cats: you just need fewer of them and a place you want them to go.