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Review: Lucy in the Sky

October 11, 2019

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

There are some movies that simply don’t work, and others that are such creative misfires that they almost become fascinating case studies in what not to do. The keyword is “almost.” The bafflingly bad space drama Lucy in the Sky is one such example, a film that swings for the fences in terms of bold creative choices, but misses pretty much every time.

The film serves as the feature directorial debut of Noah Hawley, who is best known for his work on the shows Fargo and Legion, and it’s a complete creative misfire that doesn’t work on almost any level. Watching it feels like being trapped in space.

The film follows astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) who, after returning from two weeks in space, struggles to readjust to her life back on earth, and starts cheating on her earnest but sort of bland husband Drew (Dan Stevens) with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm). Determined to get back into space, Lucy starts obsessively training, but her fraying mental state, and her suspicion that Mark is also sleeping with another astronaut (Zazie Beetz), causes her to quickly unravel.

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who drove non-stop from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida in 2007 to confront a co-worker over an affair. Nowak became infamous for the fact that she wore an adult diaper to cut down on the need for stops along the way, a detail that this film omits, but including it honestly could have only improved the final product. The film disappoints on a psychological level, with it being far too thinly written and underdeveloped to work as a character study, and what we are left with is a listless and at times pretentiously overstylized domestic drama that completely squanders the potential of its intriguing premise.

I’m all for changing aspect ratios, but they also need to have a point, and this film overdoes it, switching between full screen and different widescreen formats in the middle of scenes for no discernible rhyme or reason. Like J.J. Abrams’s infamous lens flares, it’s a stylistic choice that looks cool in moderation, but grows tiring when used to this degree. I would recommend seeing the recent film Waves, or the Xaiver Dolan films Tom at the Farm and Mommy, for a lesson in how changing aspect ratios can be used well and in service of the actual story.

The film’s title is, of course, taken from the classic Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” A moody, drawn out cover of the song, arranged by composer Jeff Russo and sung by singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, plays over a trippy sequence in the middle that features Portman’s character seemingly floating through a variety of sets, which seems to be an approximation of what a Spike Lee double-dolly shot might look like if the filmmaker were on acid.

This is an overlong, unfocused, melodramatic mess, with an uncharacteristically campy and over the top lead performance from Portman, who chews increasing amounts of the scenery as the character of Lucy grows more unhinged. By the time she is donning a cheap blonde wig for the film’s finale, Portman’s performance approaches levels of camp that would make Nicholas Cage proud. It was by far one of the worst and most disappointing film that I saw at TIFF this year, so feel free to save your money.

Lucy in the Sky is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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