‘Lucy in the Sky’ Movie Review: Sky Moll

If your interest in Lucy in the Sky is because it’s Fargo and Legion creator Noah Hawley’s film directorial debut, then you’ll be pleased to know Lucy in the Sky is very Noah Hawley. You’ll also understand when I say it’s more Legion Noah Hawley than Fargo Noah Hawley. If you’re new to Hawley, then either variety may be a lot to handle. 

Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky
Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky | Fox Searchlight Pictures

‘Lucy in the Sky,’ Lisa on the ground

Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) returns from a NASA mission eagerly awaiting her next one. She gets cagey around new recruit Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz) but tries not to see her as competition. She begins an affair with Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), even though she’s married to Drew (Dan Stevens) and they have a daughter (Pearl Amanda Dickson) together.

Natalie Portman and Zazie Beetz
Natalie Portman and Zazie Beetz in Lucy in the Sky | Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Lucy in the Sky is based on the story of Lisa Nowak, a NASA astronaut who allegedly wore a diaper so she wouldn’t have to stop on a cross-country journey to confront an air force captain romantically involved with a fellow astronaut. The names have been changed and dredging up the scandalous details isn’t really the point. 

This is what a Noah Hawley movie looks like

Hawley creates a living breathing frame. The picture squeezes in tight or expands as the camera follows Lucy around whatever portion of the frame within which she has to work. Films like Interstellar and First Man used IMAX footage to open up the world of space.

Lucy in the Sky does it on a normal sized movie screen which suggests it’s less about the size of the screen and more about the viewer’s orientation. If you’re watching an averaged sized screen in a mall, it’s still jarring when the screen closes down further and still epic when it opens up.

Jon Hamm and Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky
Jon Hamm and Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky | Hilary B. Gayle/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Legion also used different aspect ratios to represent different time frames or planes of existence. It creates a somewhat abstract and experimental take on Lucy, but within the structure of a space movie. You can follow the gist of her training, having trouble adjusting to civilian life, and getting involved with Mark, although it’s looser than a conventional narrative.

By comparison, I could not tell you what happened in three seasons of Legion but I enjoyed watching every minute of it. I can repeat the plot of Lucy in the Sky a bit more easily but it becomes just as ambiguous.

This is certainly a unique way to explore a psyche. I’m not sure if it’s empowering Lucy or empathizing with her breakdown. It could be both and Portman can play it all. She’s obsessive and negligent, focused and distracted, confident and uneasy, righteous and unhinged. 

Is ‘Lucy in the Sky’ right for you?

There may be viewers who are automatically turned off to Lucy and that’s fair. Adultery alone could just be a nonstarter. At the very least it begs the question: What’s the divorce rate among astronauts married to people who’ve never been to space? Couples don’t have to have everything in common, but that’s a pretty big unknowable that makes it difficult to relate.

Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm in Lucy in the Sky | Hilary B. Gayle/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The style may be a turnoff to viewers who just wanted to see Natalie Portman in a space adventure. Noah Hawley has had a good track record of using his clout to earn license to take even bigger risks on television, and now he’s doing it in film too.