Floating in outer space, Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) is so awestruck by her view of the world, she almost has to be reeled back in to return to earth. Her husband, NASA PR man Drew (Dan Stevens, TV's 'Legion'), is beyond proud of his wife of six years, and is initially reluctant to question the high achiever’s increasingly odd behavior. Cola is unmoored, life on earth now too mundane. All she can focus on is getting a seat on the next mission and the highs afforded by an illicit affair with fellow astronaut and hard-drinking womanizer Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm) and when both of those things fall through, it’s “Lucy in the Sky.”
Anyone who’s been exposed to director Noah Hawley’s work on television ('Fargo,' 'Legion') would have high expectations for his theatrical feature debut, but while there is a lot of craft on display here, Hawley’s artistic choices are often questionable, failing to articulate Lucy’s psychological state.
Take, for example, his use of constantly shifting aspect ratios, meant to differentiate Lucy’s awe is space versus her feelings of confinement on earth. Especially in its earliest goings, the frame shifts from 1:85:1 wide screen to the boxy Academic ratio to the extreme widescreen of a letterboxed 2:39:1 ratio. At one point he even uses a moving mask to create an Academic ratio over a widescreen image. Rather than put one in Lucy’s head space, all this device does is distract. Another visual effect he uses is to stretch and elongate images, something he calls ‘tiling,’ but this results in the lower third of the image to lose focus, another distraction in a scene where Lucy assures NASA counselor Will Plimpton (Nick Offerman) that she is A-OK. More successful is an ‘infinite zoom’ where Lucy and her background move independently, transporting her from shocking news learned at home to her Nana’s (Ellen Burstyn) hospital room (in another scene, we see Lucy’s background shimmer). The film was shot by ‘Legion’ cinematographer Polly Morgan. The film’s sound design and score are equally ambitious and more successful in their execution overall.
Modifying the original script by Brian C Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi, Hawley is ‘inspired by’ the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction 2007 tale of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, who infamously drove for 14 hours using baby diapers to avoid stops to assault her ex-lover’s new girlfriend. He changes much of the story for no real discernible reason, Lucy here becoming acquainted with her future rival Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz, "Joker") for some workplace tension, but instead attacking Mark. There is also a niece, Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson, TV's 'Legion'), Lucy and Drew look after who accompanies her on the journey here, mainly as a witness to her insanity, to hide the handgun Lucy had taken from her grandmother’s purse and as the recipient of Lucy’s lecture on how women clean up men’s messes.
Natalie Portman, sporting a broad accent and Dorothy Hamill ‘do, is quite good in the role, her confidence a cover for an accelerating downward spiral. She’s mesmerizing in the film’s best scene, an underwater training maneuver which she pushes through despite a helmet breach which finds her holding her breath for two minutes. Dan Stevens is a dorky Drew with a Ned Flanders moustache to match his Ned Flanders outlook, no match for Hamm’s bad boy attraction. Hamm has been hit and miss in big screen efforts but this is one of his better ones, an imperfect guy with worries of his own who tries to do the right thing. Burstyn is a boozy character, Beetz an innocent upstart. The film also stars Tig Notaro as another astronaut, ‘Fargo’s’ Jeffrey Donovan as sympathetic NASA Supervisor Jim Hunt (impressed as hell by Lucy’s underwater calm) and “If Beale Street Could Talk’s” Colman Domingo as program head Frank Paxton.
“Lucy in the Sky” leaves us three years later with Lucy donning a beekeeper suit obviously meant to invoke her NASA gear, the bees an earthbound ‘grounding’ device, ‘risky’ fliers and a callback to the larvae-to-butterfly symbolism Hawley uses throughout (to signify what, exactly? Lucy’s metamorphosis into madness?). The film starts off intriguingly enough, but quickly goes off the rails, an ambitious failure.
Robin did not see this film.
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