Keep your head out of the clouds is a common saying for young people to hear.
It’s not someone discouraging you from aspiring to greater things, but to remember where the true home is. For Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), one of the top astronauts NASA has to offer, her preferred home is far above the clouds, in outer space. A place where she can dangle across the stars and look down on Earth like we would a house from our seat on an airplane. The only problem is that eventually, the plane lands. The mission ends, and Lucy must come home.
Noah Hawley’s space drama, Lucy in the Sky, is a lot like its central character: passionate about its goals, but erratic and untrustworthy. After an intriguing setup in the first hour-which includes the married Lucy falling for a fellow space cowboy, Mark (Jon Hamm)-the movie completely falls apart in the second half. The screenplay has three sets of fingerprints on it, and it’s as if the laptop was passed around with a bottle of vodka in an attempt to tie an ending to this misfire.
While it teases the audience with the true effects of a life spent in space, and the exotic nature of that job, it drops all its marbles in chasing down a tired romantic lust-fueled subplot as its main attraction in the follow-through. It’s hard to keep a rooting interest in the film when the main character is cold and not someone you want to root for. Lucy, like her character does with most of the people in her world-including her brother’s daughter (Pearl Amanda Dickson), whom she basically adopted and raised with her husband(Dan Stevens)-keeps the audience at a decent distance. We can’t get close to her, which means when the going gets tough for her, we simply don’t care what happens to her.
The script went through revisions and I am not surprised. The film was inspired by true events, but I wouldn’t call the movie even halfway close to what actually happened in real life. You can tell they tried to make it into something more and just fumbled it. They took a space flick and turned it into a lifetime movie that was orphaned and ended up on the Starz network.
These days, with the constant outpouring of astronaut-related films, especially ones dealing with the mental toll of the job, you have to do something extraordinary to stand out. Or you need to be bold. James Gray’s Ad Astra went for something different,, showing us new visuals and presenting morally complex ideas, and didn’t slow down in its finale, building to powerful interactions and moments. Lucy in the Sky gets marred in slapstick melodrama, which actually induced unintentional laughter from the audience.
The cast tries, but can’t do much with the material. Portman is as versatile as it gets with roles these days, but she doesn’t quite find a lane to drive in with Lucy. She wrestles with a Southern accent that never gets too comfortable, and her acting spirals with the script. I kept thinking, “she’s better than this.”
Hamm basically inhabits the Don Draper of the space program, giving Mark, an “astronaut action figure,” some depth, but never finding the opportunity to show us more. Stevens smiles a lot, whines on occasion, and could have been played by a robot. Zazie Beetz, as a rival astronaut, doesn’t get much to do except look distressed at times. Ellen Burstyn, who never passes up a role that dignifies angst, plays Lucy’s nonchalant mother, the one woman who understands her daughter and her motives.
Jeffrey Donovan and Tig Notaro are amusing as a pair of NASA instructors, but they aren’t around enough to make a dent. The cast, largely, is hit and miss, but the hits often aren’t good enough.
The tone here is all over the place, often taking the audience on a problematic space mission that has too much bump and not enough thought-provoking thump. You just look and expect to find more here.
In the end, Lucy in the Sky simply doesn’t work. The setup wasn’t bad, but the execution and end result is messy, boring, and nothing we haven’t seen before.
Disappointment is a word that comes to mind if you can’t find a more fancy one to use.
It’s okay to keep your head in the clouds for a certain period of time, but eventually, you have to come down. I wish Noah Hawley found a better movie up there.