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Lucy in the Sky Review

September 27, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Lucy in the Sky
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Lucy in the Sky Review  

Directed By: Noah Hawley
Written By: Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi
Runtime: 124 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content

Natalie Portman – Lucy Cola
Jon Hamm – Mark Goodwin
Dan Stevens – Drew Cola
Zazie Beetz – Erin Eccles
Ellen Burstyn – Nana Holbrook
Colman Domingo – Frank Paxton
Jeffrey Donovan – Jim Hunt
Tig Notaro – Kate Mounier
Pearl Amanda Dickson – Blue Iris

Noah Hawley, who has found great success on the small screen with such shows as Fargo and Legion, makes his feature directorial debut, Lucy in the Sky. Partially inspired by the real-life events of NASA astronaut, Lisa Nawak, Lucy in the Sky stars Academy Award winner Natalie Portman as the eponymous Lucy. While Portman is on hand with a game performance, Lucy in the Sky turns out to be a rather clumsy, uneven outing for Hawley’s first time at bat on the big screen.

Portman’s Lucy Cola is an astronaut who has just returned home after a trip to space. However, the transcendent experience of space has made her life on Earth rather dull and confining. Now, all Lisa can do is think about getting back up to space to once again experience that high. Lucy’s Earth-bound confinement is visually externalized by the use of a shifting aspect ratio. When she’s at home and dealing with the rather mundane reality of her life, the film utilizes a 4:3 aspect ratio. When Lucy is training with the NASA staff at work or thinking about her time in space, the image widens and becomes more vibrant and alive.

Lucy is married to the NASA public relations worker, Drew (Stevens), who is sweet and kind. However, he’s a limp beta male with “weak hands” who needs his wife to open up his ketchup bottles. Not only that, he can’t connect with, or support, his wife on an emotional level. It’s no wonder Lucy finds an attraction to the playboy, hotshot astronaut Mark Goodwin (Hamm), who is practically a real-life Han Solo, and they soon embark on an illicit affair. Meanwhile, Lucy’s main competition for her spot on a future shuttle mission is the young, aspiring astronaut candidate Erin Eccles (Beets). Unfortunately, due to her uninspiring home life and the mental strain of the overview effect, Lucy is on an emotional downward spiral that’s destined for a very bad day.

The best thing about Lucy in the Sky is easily Natalie Portman’s strong performance as Lucy Cola. Portman is clearly committed to the role, and she does a fine job of portraying a woman gradually and systematically suffering from an eventual mental break. Her southern accent is consistent, and she’s very believable in this role as a type-A, blue-collar, alpha woman and astronaut.

Lucy in the Sky fails in its weak script. Hawley attempts to compensate for the problem with lots of cinematic visual gimmicks. It’s a trope-filled, cliché-ridden script, and the clunky visual presentation only serves to underscore those issues. For example, the movie has the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. Movies don’t have to be subtle to be effective, but Lucy in the Sky constantly overstates the point. Is it really necessary to point out that the husband has weak hands after taking time to establish that he gets Lucy to open jars for him? The love scenes involving Hamm and Portman are presented in a very trite fashion.

For an example of the shoddy script, while Hawley tries to present the film as high art, a later scene shows Lucy and her husband having dinner at a restaurant and running into Erin waiting at another table. Mark then arrives seconds later. It’s like a scene out of a bad rom-com where the audience is supposed to gasp and yell, “Uh oh!”

While the film features a strong cast, the only two performers who really leave an impression are Portman and Ellen Burstyn as Lucy’s surly, witty grandmother. It’s probably one of the better relationships in the story and exemplifies where Lucy inherited some of her drive and attitude for life from.

The rest of the cast members are mostly underutilized. Zazie Beets and Dan Stevens are both good actors, but they are given paper-thin characters. Beets is nothing more than a shallow rival. Stevens’ Drew is a totally one-dimensional doormat. He’s so nice and sweet that it’s sickening. He barely says anything when his wife’s issues are screaming at him right in the face. The fact that his wife is having an affair basically has to be spelled out for him. When it happens, he still looks to be in a state of utter shock and disbelief.

The film makes sure to inform the audience at the beginning that the story is based on a true story. Over 10 years ago, some people might remember the whole “astronaut in a diaper” story for which this movie is based. Granted, it appears there is some doubt about the facts concerning whether real-life astronaut Lisa Nawak was actually found wearing a diaper when she was pulled over by police. However, a movie so loosely inspired by this story that ignores much of the factual information and subjects is bizarre. It appears the filmmakers have no faith in the film other than the hook and said, “Remember that story from years back about an astronaut getting pulled over wearing a diaper? Yeah, this is kind of that story.”

The fashion in which the film builds to Lucy’s nervous breakdown is tonally uneven. At times, the music cues and establishing shots look and sound somewhat like something out of a B-grade horror movie. Then, Lucy plans what appears to be either a kidnapping or crime of passion, and the editing is like some sort of cute, punchy heroic montage. Hawley’s direction appears to lack confidence in his vision and cannot rectify what type of story he wants to tell. The ultimate ending is a nonsensical cinematic cliché that does not belong in this type of story.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
Lucy in the Sky is an underwhelming first-time directorial outing for Noah Hawley, who relies far too much on overblown cinematic gimmicks to make up for a weak script. Natalie Portman puts in a strong, committed performance and offers an interesting perspective of a smart, competent woman who suffers from a mental breakdown. However, it's not enough to elevate a weak script and tonally uneven direction.