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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024