“Lucy in the Sky” is that rare attempt at cinematic art that goes so far off the rails that it manages to do everything wrong.
Ill-conceived and poorly executed, it wastes its phenomenal cast thanks to its morass of overwrought visuals and contradictory messaging.
Whatever it was that the minds behind this film were out to say or show with this film at the outset gets completely lost in the final product. In its place, audiences get two hours of predictable melodrama and just plain weird directorial choices.
What’s it about?
“Lucy in the Sky” ostensibly at first presents itself as a character study.
It introduces audiences to astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), who to all appearances is the quintessential portrait of success. Ambitious and driven, she’s a career-minded woman who at the same time has cultivated a happy marriage with Drew (Dan Stevens), a NASA public relations employee.
But everything changes for Lucy after her first space shuttle flight. Seeing her world rendered so small by the view from in orbit, she encounters trouble when she’s once again earthbound.
All her goals and aspirations, all her achievements to that point all are suddenly so very small and insignificant against the backdrop of space. As she struggles with that realization, she becomes more desperate to get back up there in a future mission.
In the meantime, as her will to remain connected to everything that meant anything before she went into space wanes, her behavior becomes first erratic, then outright dangerous.
How far will she go to re-connect with the only thing left that feels “real” to her? How far will she take her new “mission” before she realizes that her perception of what’s “real” is no longer reliable?
Getting lost in execution
“Lucy in the Sky” comes from the team behind the FX TV series “Legion.”
Writer/director Noah Hawley and producer Brian C. Brown (along with Elliott DiGuiseppi) attempt to bring a similar fast-and-loose approach to reality perception to this story, which they claim is inspired by true events.
Anyone familiar with the real-life story of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak should recognize which events they’re drawing near the end of the film.
The film doesn’t try to depict Nowak’s exact story, though. Hawley and Brown seem more interested in exploring what might make someone like Nowak, a brilliant and strong-willed overachiever, unravel.
On paper, it’s an interesting concept for a character-driven film. However, Hawley’s approach to the visuals is so distracting that it’s difficult to figure out just where he wants to go with that concept.
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So much of “Lucy in the Sky” just feels like the filmmakers overthought the visuals and lost sight of simply telling a compelling story.
Between switching back and forth between different aspect ratios — widescreen to tube-TV 4×3 and back again — to attempts to depict “floating” and “out of body” experiences through green-screen effects, after a while it just feels like a barrage of nonsensical stylistic choices.
And then there’s the acting. About the only thing you can say about Portman here is that it’s a committed performance. But between the deep southern-fried accent she speaks in and the limited range of facial expressions she utilizes here, there may be a Razzie in her future come Oscars season.
Maybe to Hawley, there was a sense and a method to the madness here. But grasping for it while watching the film turns into an inescapable distraction. It all just feels like a waste — waste of effort, waste of talent, waste of time.
Lucy in the Sky
Starring Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Colman Domingo, and Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Noah Hawley.
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated R for language and some sexual content.