The main character in Paul Riccio’s short film Space Cadet, Paul (Brian D’Addario), has his stoner parents very concerned. For a family dynamic where Mom (Jessica Hecht) and Dad (Richard Edson) blaze up in front of their children all the time, the fact that the easily distracted Paul is deemed the least attentive is truly saying something, and when Paul botches some simple instructions to clean and cook chicken (by lathering the chicken in dish soap and then putting the chicken in a gas-fueled oven and turning it on, without lighting the pilot first), his parents think it might be time to see a professional. Which really upsets Paul, because now he’s concerned that there is something wrong with him (as opposed to, say, a youth spent growing up amid the haze and daze of marijuana smoke).
Space Cadet is a short glimpse at a unique family, and a coming-of-age tale at that. Paul’s plight is that he feels unjustly persecuted, and coupled with the hormones of the teenage years, he doesn’t truly know how to cope with it except to beat himself up and expect the worst. Still, there’s a sweetness to the film, as it is about Paul wanting to fit in with his family, and his family’s concerns, while somewhat silly, come from a well-meaning place. Soapy chicken aside, Paul very well could’ve blown himself up, which is one step beyond “absent-minded.”
Visually, the film has a faded look to it that accentuates the idea of a constant fogginess, whether it represents weed smoke, daydreaming or some other slightly desaturated, less contrasty occasion. And I like the choice, because it also hearkens back to that faded look certain older films have, and the aesthetic combined with the narrative paints a complete stylistic picture.
There is a general disconnect to everything, however, as Paul’s aloof nature translates so well to the audience, that you tend to engage from a distance. You kinda feel bad for Paul, but then again, you kinda don’t feel much of anything. The sweetness of the film still exists, and the entire endeavor has a strange lightness, but that sometimes serves to undermine any true dramatic conflicts. There’s just that feeling of being removed, an acute awareness of watching instead of connecting.
Overall, though, Space Cadet is a strong effort. I really don’t have any criticisms along a technical level, and the narrative comes together nicely. I truly appreciated the stylistic choices, visually and in the edit, and found the entire film to be solid. A lack of connection, sure, but even that is fitting.
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