Natalie Portman Stars in Factually-Inspired Tale of Astronaut Love.
DIRECTED BY NOAH HAWLEY/2019
“Lucy-ly” based on the true story of Astronaut Lisa Nowek, who stalked a fellow colleague, notoriously driving over 20 hours from Texas to Florida to confront her love interest (while wearing Depends), at the expense of her marriage, is the new film Lucy in the Sky. While Lucy might share some parallels with the real life story, director Noah Hawley has stated that he had a fictionalized version of the story that made it to screen independent to the events involving Lisa Nowek. What results is an interesting look at one person’s fall from grace after touching the face of God. Lucy in the Sky stars Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Ellen Burstyn, Pearl Amanda Dickson, and Zazie Beetz.
Portman is astronaut Lucy Cola. As we first encounter her, she is in the middle of a solo space walk gazing on the wonder, beauty, and majesty of the universe. She casts her eyes down on earth with its lights, and perceived smallness, before witnessing a sublime sunrise. This is the apex of her life. All of her ambition, hard work, and dedication embodied in the blessed opportunity to be an astronaut chosen for a mission where she makes it into space.
If this experience was the mountain top, then it is indeed a grand one. It also means that for someone like Lucy, no other experience will be able to live up to what she has experienced. This begins to have an almost immediate effect. Her first post-mission pyschological session with Psychologist Will Plimpton (Nick Offerman) seems to go well. She is ready to get back to the business of winning a spot on an upcoming mission. She will touch that summit again. All of her drive and ambition has a new goal in which it can be channeled, if the mundane experiences of daily life don’t prove to be her undoing.
Not sleeping well as she readjusts to earth we see Lucy picking up her niece Blue Iris (Dickson) from school. This is mundane. Her husband Drew (Stevens) is the nicest and safest man in the world. He is even doing one of the most mundane and boring things around the house as he calmly puts up new wallpaper….of straight vertical bars. Even visits with her fiery grandmother Nana (Burstyn) lack the usual punch as Lucy simply finds herself fixing a kitchen sink problem. Safe. She is drowning in the life she made for herself and each night is reminded of it as she looks up and sees the heavens.
When the training program begins for the next mission she finds herself invited to go bowling with her fellow colleagues that know the dissatisfaction she is experiencing. This camaraderie with her colleagues draws her in and eleviates some of her dissatisfaction, especially as it concerns Mark Goodwin (Hamm), the handsome, good-time, alcoholic, womanizer who despite his flaws is someone who seems to “get” Lucy. As she draws further into work life, her decisions start to spiral in her personal life and then at work, threatening everything she has built.
While this description seems plot heavy, much of this is established in the first third of the film. Lucy in the Sky doesn’t try to telegraph where it is heading as much as unravel Lucy’s story organically. This is an extremely character-driven piece and Noah Hawley has built this story to be fully immersive for audiences seeing it on the theater screen. The grandeur of space and the mundane-ness of daily life are shot with two completely different aspect ratios to better allow the audience to empathize with Lucy as a character. Sound also plays into the construction of it all, with a great transitional scene of Lucy’s final transitional moment before a personal free-fall that utilizes the title song that was originally written by The Beatles.
Natalie Portman is fully in control of this character and continues to demonstrate why she is one of the best actresses performing right now, as we discussed in our recent ZekeFilm Film Admission column dedicated to her work. Through her portrayal we get a woman whom we can truly empathize with, and who earns enough sympathy, despite her downward spiraling of choices. She is strong, capable, intelligent, and Portman masterfully handles her descent.
While the performances are fantastic and the art of the telling works, this will be a mixed bag for general audience caught between the desire for a strong story (which they will get) and mindless entertainment with a great cast (this is far from mindless entertainment, especially given the great cast). Much like Ad Astra, Lucy in the Sky might divide audiences whose attention span won’t allow for the deliberate pacing of the film. What they will get, however, is a powerful film that “Lucy-ly” mirrors a real life event, but in a way that we can all understand and even empathize with.
Lucy in the Sky is now playing in select theaters.