Lucy in the Sky is an ideal vehicle for Natalie Portman, cast as an astronaut who finds outer space thrilling and life back on earth somewhat less so. Affecting a Southern accent and sporting a short haircut, she creates a character who is thoroughly relatable, at first. We understand her exhilaration during a spacewalk and her dissatisfaction at home, despite the fact that she has a loving husband (Dan Stevens), a salty grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and congenial colleagues. As it unfolds, however, the story takes this character to extremes.
The screenplay, credited to Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, and director Noah Hawley, was adapted from an earlier draft by two other writers. They in turn were inspired by the real-life story of Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who careened off the rails in 2007. All some people remember about the incident is that Nowak wore an adult diaper in order to save bathroom time in pursuit of her unfaithful lover.
Lucy in the Sky says it is based on real events but makes no reference to Nowak, nor does it indicate how much of its narrative is true. For an audience unfamiliar with the headline-making events of 2007, the movie leaves credibility behind at a certain point in favor of melodrama. (Then again, life can be melodramatic.) Portman is attracted to a handsome colleague, played by Jon Hamm, and has an intense relationship with him before his behavior sets her wildly off-course.
This marks the feature directing debut of Noah Hawley, who did such an extraordinary job adapting the Coen Brothers’ Fargo for television. The most distinctive ingredient he brings to this movie is the use of different aspect ratios: widescreen (with letterboxing) for big moments and old-fashioned 1:33 Academy ratio for more mundane scenes. It’s fun to watch for a while, but it soon becomes clear that this is merely a gimmick with no dramatic import whatsoever.
What’s worse, the movie builds to a completely unsatisfying conclusion. The final scene offers no context or resolution. I’d call Lucy a missed opportunity, given the juiciness of the source material. Too bad.