By Jonathan Lawrence
Mitch (Michael Cram) is a pretty insecure middle-aged guy. He has an unambitious job at a go-kart track (yet has a surprisingly nice home for such a career path) and seems to wallow in self-pity. So when he receives a letter explaining that his red-haired newborn is not his, he does not take the news well. Angry and betrayed, he sets out to find the baby’s true father and to exact his revenge. Mitch’s plans are tenuous at best, however. He doesn’t even know what the real father looks like.
Meanwhile, his wife, Jackie, (Sonya Salomaa) regrets her actions, so she piles her dysfunctional group of family and friends into a limousine to stop Mitch and try to save their marriage. Mitch, however, not the vengeful type, meets an unusual and adorable girl named Emily (Julia Sarah Stone), and forms a strange yet humanizing relationship with her.
It’s a quirky, funny, and emotional film, and we were able to speak with writer/director Amy Jo Johnson about it, which also happens to be her first feature-length film.
“I was super lucky with that cast,” she said. “Michael Ironside was amazing. Jayne Eastwood is such a legend.”
The film’s characters feel real; they are all eccentric, of course, yet entirely believable. “For the characters… I definitely pull from people in my life,” she admitted. “Emilia’s dad, Nick, I wrote sort of based on my own father, but when Michael Ironside showed up on set he was no longer Nick. That’s what so great about seeing things come to life, the actors bring their own thing.”
The teenage girl Emily is the emotional heart of the film, hiding deep-rooted pain behind an air of cheeriness. Complementing the emotional Mitch, a wonderful father-daughter relationship emerges. Johnson stresses that Emily needed to look innocent so that there could be no mistaken romantic relationship. “Mitch’s journey is to really figure out that he can be a good father, so we really needed whoever to play [Emily] to not have a sexy thing that they give off, and that’s hard to find. But when Julia sent in her tape I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect.’”
Themes are what give a story depth, and the recurring notion throughout the film is that pain creates passion. “Ultimately the main theme throughout the movie is acceptance and forgiveness,” Johnson explained. “Each character has to go through their journey to find love in a way. To do that, everybody had to let go from what they were holding onto.”
We asked Johnson if this theme was close to her. She stated that it wasn’t the initial intention in early drafts of the script, but that by the end of the writing process, it suddenly became very apparent. “I figured out that that was everybody’s journey, and I think in life that’s probably the hardest lesson and the biggest thing we all have to do is figure out how to let go and accept where were at or what’s happening and not try to control everything.”
One of the film’s strong points is its comedic undertones, which nicely balance out the film’s dramatic moments. “The heavy subject matter that I was dealing with, I try to find the levity within it, [to] be able to laugh at the situations.”
To bring levity to the script, Johnson knew that the film’s lead needed to have an understated comedic side. “I wrote the movie for Michael [Cram], I worked with him on Flashpoint. I think he is just the funniest guy, but he doesn’t even know how funny he is. He is Mitch, but I think more sophisticated. I remember being on set and he’d be like, ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ He’d get a bit insecure. ‘What do you want?’ he’d say.” Johnson affects a panicky voice for Cram.
“There he is, that’s him,” she joked. “One day he just showed up really confident and a whole different Mitch and I was like ‘who is this confident guy on my set?’”
“What are you talking about?” he responded anxiously.
“There you go, there he is,” Johnson said, laughing.
The Space Between will be shown on April 21st at the Globe Cinema as part of CUFF. Star Michael Ironside will be in attendance.CUFF, Globe Cinema, Michael Ironside, The Space Between