“LUCY IN THE SKY” is a new drama starring Natalie Portman. It’s directed by Noah Hawley in his first full-feature credit. With Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn, and Dan Stevens filling out the cast. This film is based on the real-life story the media dubbed the “NASA Love Triangle” a little over a decade ago. A female astronaut has returned from her first space mission and after such an extraordinary experience, she finds life back on earth to be unfulfilling and small. She’s always been first, always worked hard, and always strived for success. But she feels confined and lacking the spiritual rush that being in space provided her. Seeking some kind of thrill in her life it isn’t long before she starts an affair with a colleague that will end up being a crucial cog in the downward spiral of not only her career, but at that time, a bit of her sanity as well.
I do remember when this story hit the news. The headlines of a NASA affair, and an astronaut driving across the country in an adult diaper stuck out to me as something you don’t hear often. Even on the news. I was curious what this re-telling of the story would focus on. Would it be the space aspect and the career of this person? Or would it simply focus on the dramatic intrigue of a love triangle seasoned with a splash of NASA? In the end I was pleased to see that both angles were explored, to an extent. The dedication of Lucy to be the best astronaut she could be was captured early on. She is non-stop competitive, and the determination portrayed in how she went about her career and her work ethic overall was both impressive and inspirational. As well as being a bit of a cautionary tale.
The love triangle is also given time to evolve and while it was pivotal to the plot, I don’t think it was very well delivered. I know in the real events an affair took place, but how it was built in this narrative felt contrived and lacking authenticity. I know Jon Hamm is hunky, but for a woman with the dedication that Lucy had, I never connected with a lot of the choices she made in the last two acts. Starting with her spur of the moment affair. This script is written by a group of men and it shows because the portrayal of Lucy was on the shallow side. It’s clear the writer’s in doing their research never truly got an understanding of why these events took place. I read that the real Lucy has pretty much disappeared into obscurity, so I understand there probably wasn’t an option to interview her. But the writing made Lucy feel like a person who threw it away because of jealousy and while that make be the actual case. I feel there probably was more layering there.
This narrative felt like a male perspective of Lucy and didn’t capture the feelings she must have felt as a woman working in a predominantly male field, and all the pressure that comes from that. I think having this female perspective on the writing side could’ve helped create a deeper dive into what overlying factors, besides a sexy masculine astronaut, went into Lucy having her downward spiral. I think this would have also helped give the film a side. Because it’s very matter of fact and lacks a lot of emotion, intensity, and honestly, purpose. As the viewer you take things at face-value without much reasoning as to why this story is being told, or what the intended message is. Something that I think could have helped a lot in creating likable characters. Or at least ones with issues that felt properly explored and developed.
The way the emotional layering in this film progressed made everything Lucy did feel based out of self-entitlement. Natalie Portman was fine in this role. She did bring a ton of emotional expression to the character. And she had a strong energy that sold her as a tough-as-nails astronaut. But as the story progresses and fails to dive into who this person was. Portman did end up feeling like Portman, just with a Texas accent. I think the lack of depth in the writing hindered her from being able to deliver the gripping character performance she was clearly aiming for. As for everyone else, I thought they were serviceable as well. Hamm was his usual charming self as NASA’s womanizing bachelor. And Beetz, Burstyn, Offerman, and Stevens all make the most out of smaller, more generic roles by adding some personality to their otherwise thin character-types.
The direction from Hawley was fine. But overall his style was a miss for me as it felt like it tried too hard to be artistically thought-provoking. The aspect ratio is constantly changing, and it was annoying after a while. It switches back-and-forth from the older 4:3 ratio to widescreen as the story progresses and the first couple of times it was very distracting. Once I realized the theater projectionist wasn’t asleep at the wheel and that it was intentional, it still didn’t work for me. I get Hawley was sort signifying the more confined feel of home life for Lucy with the smaller scope. Juxtaposed by her feeling of freedom on the job during the widescreen shots. But it was a gimmick that turned out to be more distracting than anything.
The problem with this movie was that despite having long stretches that do entertain. All the pieces when placed together still don’t complete the puzzle. The pacing was a bit off as well with a two-hour run-time that wasn’t necessary to me. It tries to feel poignant at times, but it never comes across because the substance in the story isn’t enough to build the needed intrigue to complement that intention. It doesn’t explore anything with enough depth to be thought-provoking, and it doesn’t establish how we should feel about what Lucy has done. Which is not a good thing when the film is telling Lucy’s story. Why this story was being told was more fascinating to me than what it was telling me. There are some quality scenes sprinkled in and the cast does make the most out of thin writing. There are also strong moments of visual appeal as well during the NASA themed scenes. But Hawley’s weird aspect ratio technique was more distracting than it was interesting, the story felt surface-level, and when it was all said and done, I left the theater feeling, nothing.