Lucy in the Sky
2019, R, 124 min. Directed by Noah Hawley. Starring Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Pearl Amanda Dickson, Ellen Burstyn, Jeffrey Donovan, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Oct. 11, 2019
Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who made national headlines in 2007 for driving from Texas to Florida in a straight-shot trajectory to an Orlando airport to confront the third point of a love triangle, never wore an adult diaper in that trek. But the fact that she had them at all, along with various “kidnapping paraphernalia,” caused quite a media tempest in a teapot (rarely is there any other kind, unless it involves a mass death toll), and perhaps that’s what drew director Noah Hawley to this particular project. Hawley is the creative mind behind FX’s Fargo series as well as Legion, two quite different narrative pursuits, but ones that maneuver through reflections on what I see as “need” and “trust.” The needle flicks wildly between Hawley’s characters in both of those shows, and the film version of Nowak’s story, when that screenplay landed on his desk (after a few interns looked it over), must have seemed like there was a match there.
But this film is about Lucy (Portman), and in this case, Lucy’s story is “inspired by true events,” a knowing nod to Hawley’s Fargo work (and the Coen brothers’ film that spawned it) of “this is a true story” variety, which was a morbid joke then, and becomes, in this case, a reminiscence of an anecdote half-told at a party, but you nod and laugh anyway. We meet Lucy in space, the expanse of the endless universe surrounding her. And it changes her profoundly. Once back home, she stares at the popcorn ceiling of her home with her husband Drew (Stevens, hiding behind a mustache, and completely irrelevant in this film). Lucy begins an affair with Mark Goodwin (Hamm), a fellow astronaut. When Goodwin begins relations with another astronaut, Erin Eccles (Beetz), Lucy loses her shit and hits the road to Florida for that third-act confrontation.
The most interesting part of Lucy in the Sky is that second act, in which the main character is basically besieged by struggles with her own psyche and the male-dominated world of NASA, and her pining for not just Goodwin but for a return to the view of the universe that only a chosen few have seen. Ever the formalist, Hawley can’t help but constantly change the film’s aspect ratio, and often veers into visually surreal scenarios that are unnecessary. Portman gives her all in her performance, which is the only saving grace of the film (everyone else is truly forgettable), and in the end this film is a complete misfire. To paraphrase the titular song, picture yourself seeing any other movie than this.