You may have heard about a newsworthy story back in 2007, when an a NASA astronaut drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida (roughly 900 miles) in record time to (and allegedly wearing an adult diaper the whole way) in order to confront and kidnap a fellow female NASA astronaut who was involved in a sexual relationship with a fellow male NASA astronaut, whom the first NASA astronaut was also having an affair with. To put it bluntly, NASA was entangled in an “Astronaut Love Triangle,” which put a dark stain on the seemingly perfect life of NASA astronauts and also led NASA to create its first astronaut Code of Conduct. And more importantly for this review, it led to co-writer and director Noah Hawley to come up with the screenplay for Lucy In The Sky, which is also marks the directorial debut for Hawley and is loosely based and inspired by the “Astronaut Love Triangle” from 2007.
Lucy In The Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut who has just returned from a space mission aboard one of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles. During the opening credits, we see her outside the space shuttle, starring deeply into the atmosphere and onto the lights of the world’s cities that shine brightly from outer space. As she returns home, her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) tells her that her teenaged niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) was dropped off at their house to be cared for due to her absent parents. Being childless, Lucy and Drew, both employed by NASA, are used to his as they often have to look after her. Drew is a frail soul, and can’t open jars without his wife Lucy’s help. The family is also devout Christians, giving thanks to Jesus before starting their meals. Portman delivers lines in a thick southern accent, the way a lifelong Texan would, and sports a haircut resembling professional ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Lucy has spent her entire life to be the best in school, not having an Ivy League education, and overcoming other challenges, including the type of household she was brought up in (more on that later).
After returning from the out-of-this-world mission to space, Lucy returns to daily life at NASA, running laps, doing carpool and continuing to train for her next mission. The movie’s director shows us this less-than-exciting life style by cutting the aspect ratio of the on-screen frame to a “square-ish” 4:3 from the original and glorious 2.35:1 widescreen space scenes show just minutes prior. This leads Lucy to find alternate way to fill the void of leading an exciting astronaut lifestyle so she beings to have an extramarital affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has also had a profound experience in space and is also looking to rebound on his single lifestyle and use his newly acquired title as space astronaut to satisfy his love life. The problem is that Mark is not only involved with the married Lucy but also with another younger and more attractive single astronaut Erin Eccles (amazing actress Zazie Beetz, who is fresh off her minor and insignificant role in Joker).
While not being involved in an extramarital affair with her fellow astronaut, Lucy Cola also has to take care of her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn, who literally steals the show right under Portman and Hamm), an ailing old woman who smokes, swears a bunch and packs a pistol in her purse to boot. A typical opinionated Texas granny, Burstyn isn’t afraid to tackle this role head on, providing some much needed comedic relief while the movie screens are dragging on. “I’m back” says Lucy to her Nana. “Oh, did you go somewhere?” asks Nana, seeming unimpressed with her astronaut granddaughter’s most recent trip to space. “Up and down,” replies Lucy as she remembers her trip into outer space aboard the space shuttle. There is also somewhat of a running theme that includes a butterfly being born out of a cocoon. After her nana passes away, things are set into motion that leads Lucy to take Blue Iris on a trip across the country to intercept the astronaut pair of Goodwin and Eccles. In the end, its Lucy’s niece that saves the day and has the brightest future, having learned from her aunt that she can do something different than her deadbeat parents did – change the course of her own life.
Natalie Portman is spectacular in the title role of Lucy Cola, but she also dragged down by a slow-paced and lackluster screenplay. Even the likes of Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn can’t save this film from its own factual inaccuracies and over-the-top climax. While the story of an astronaut gone crazy or full of lust can seem appealing at first, the sensationalism portrayed in the film does not make it more exciting or climactic. In fact, it does the opposite – making it seem that the director just decided to tell the story as close to what may or may have not happed as possible, without exploring why Lucy snapped the way she did. Was it a desire to get back into space and retaliating at those who were trying to prevent it, or was it that she just that her desire to be the best at everything suddenly overcame her rationale and her ability to made correct decisions? Regardless of the answer, we are left to wonder what the real human experience of Lucy Cola might have been. Even the close-up scenes of Natalie Portman in space can’t make up for the overall lackluster of the film.
Have you seen Lucy In The Sky? Well, what did you think?