Lucy in the Sky, 2019
Directed by Noah Hawley
Starring Natalie Portman, Dan Stevens, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Colman Domingo, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Pearl Amanda Dickson and Jeffrey Donovan
After returning to earth, an obsessive astronaut (Natalie Portman) begins to question her place in the universe — including her relationships with her gentle husband (Dan Stevens) and her alluring crewmate (Jon Hamm) — in the debut feature from accomplished television showrunner Noah Hawley (Fargo, Legion).
In Noah Hawley’s feature directorial debut Lucy in the Sky, Natalie Portman gives a compelling performance as astronaut Lucy Cola in this loosely based on true events tale. Unfortunately, Portman is just about the film’s sole saving grace as the drama has more style than substance. Its exploration of Lucy’s mid-life and existential crisis is good and made stronger thanks to Portman, but that’s just not enough for it to fully take off.
Inspired by the real events of former astronaut Lucy Nowak, Portman’s Lucy returns to Earth after nearly two weeks in space and begins to find everything, including her marriage to Dan Stevens’ regular and nice guy Drew, lacking compared to the spectacle of outer space. Her need to get back in space pushes her to make several hasty choices that send her in a downward spiral quite fast.
Portman delivers a great performance as Lucy, displaying the slow descent of her mental state quite well. She increasingly gets more fidgety and high-strung as the film goes on and Portman makes it believable. From her thick Texan accent to her composure, Portman puts a lot of work into her role and allows Lucy to be at times sympathetic and something of an anti-protagonist as she continues further down the moral slide. She’s not exactly a complex character, but Portman still gives enough gravitas to make her performance memorable.
Out of the supporting cast, Dan Stevens impresses as Lucy’s nice guy and dorky husband while Jon Hamm offered a parallel as Lucy’s womanizing and kind of sleazy colleague. Ellen Burnstyn also made a memorable piece to the film as Lucy’s strict and pushy grandmother while Zazie Beetz doesn’t have too much to do as Lucy’s younger colleague and romantic rival. Pearl Amanda Dickson similarly doesn’t get much material to work with as Lucy’s niece, though she does do well with the couple moments focused on her. Despite solid performances from a couple of the supporting players, they just aren’t utilized or balanced well enough.
Unfortunately, Portman’s performance isn’t enough to make this uneven film more of a success. The pacing feels off as the emotional investment with Lucy starts to wane before the halfway mark and the film doesn’t fully recover. Not much really happens in the latter half as the film breezes by some big moments that increase the stress to Lucy’s life and mental state, never staying on one thing long enough to let audiences understand more of how that affected her. It doesn’t really pick up again until the film’s third act as Lucy takes the 1000 mile drive to reenact the true events the film has built towards, allowing Portman to further showcase her range.
The film’s exploration of its themes work well enough for the most part. Whereas the real Lucy Nowak was compelled because of an affair and potential jealously towards a romantic rival, Lucy in the Sky posits it was less about a love triangle and more complicated than that. From her need to experience space again to workplace sexism to her existential crisis, there are several factors that play into Lucy’s development. It’s hard to say what exactly had the most affect on her, something that is both a positive and negative for the film as it reflects a real-life spiral a bit more while also making it feel too scattered for audiences.
Hawley makes his debut quite an artsy one. The film showcases a lot of style in its cinematography as Hawley switches aspect ratios throughout the film as the image either grows or shrinks on the screen at a gradual pace. It’s rather distracting though when it happens and is never clear why. Sometimes its to emphasize Lucy’s awe of space or her growing feelings of isolation, other times it is much less clearer than that. The same can be said for some of the film’s on the nose metaphors such as a caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis or the number of time Lucy floats upwards. It’s ultimately more style than substance.
Portman’s performance in Hawley’s debut film is its strongest aspect, but that isn’t enough. The story feels jumbled, the supporting cast is underused and the film’s visuals are more distracting than anything. Hawley’s direction isn’t bad, but just not focused enough as he tries to do too many things at once. Lucy in the Sky is somewhat interesting, but that interest doesn’t hold for very long.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.