Published Sep 13, 2019Lucy in the Sky isn't about an astronaut; it's about a selfish jerk going through an existential crisis. And even though this story of a NASA scientist struggling to adjust to life back on Earth poses some interesting philosophical questions, it's difficult to become invested in a character drama with such a thoroughly dislikeable and implausible protagonist.
The film begins with Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) out on a spacewalk while orbiting Earth. She's awed by the view, even though it doesn't look even as impressive as it does in, say, Gravity.
Soon after, back home in Texas with her pleasant but dull husband Drew (Dan Stevens), Lucy can't think about anything but getting back to space. Having witnessed the majestic scope of the universe, her old life feels banal by comparison. Even when her brother splits town and she becomes the caregiver for her niece Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson), Lucy is more interested in chasing excitement by getting close to her hunky colleague Mark (Jon Hamm).
Lucy in the Sky is loosely based on the true story of Lisa Nowak, but even if it's rooted in actual events, it still doesn't make Lucy feel like a real person. She's a flat character with nothing to her personality except for a strong work ethic and an obsession with getting back to space.
Curiously, there's never any proper mention of mental health issues, and it's never really believable that Lucy's entire life unravels because of a brief trip to space. Some of the men in the film describe her behaviour as "emotional" and "erratic" — which is presented as if they're being sexist, but Lucy's behaviour is so unhinged (and so unsupported by narrative justification) that it's frankly hard to disagree with them. The real issue is that the character embodies every cliché of a jealous, impulsive person who can't handle pressure as well as well as her colleagues.
Director Noah Hawley conveys Lucy's mental state by playing with the aspect ratio, which narrows in when she feels confined by her unfulfilling life on Earth. It's a neat trick once, but it quickly gets stale via repetition. There's also a clanger of a metaphor involving a butterfly chrysalis, and a ghastly scene featuring a cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and some corny-ass depth of field. No amount of obtrusive, flashy direction can make up for the weakness of the script.
It's almost a shame that Lucy in the Sky mentions outer space at all. Without the opening spacewalk, this would just be a film about a midlife crisis. It wouldn't be any more enjoyable, but at least it might be a little more relatable. (Fox Searchlight)