Lucy in the Sky Review
'Lucy in the Sky' looks good, but boy is it ever dull.
Release Date: October 11, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
Astronaut Lucy Cola returns to Earth after a transcendent experience during a mission to space, and begins to lose touch with reality in a world that now seems too small.
Director: Noah Hawley
Screenwriters: Noah Hawley, Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi
Producers: John Cameron, Noah Hawley, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon
Cast: Natalie Portman (Lucy Cola), Jon Hamm (Mark Goodwin), Zazie Beetz (Erin Eccles), Dan Stevens (Drew Cola), Ellen Burstyn (Nana Holbrook), Pearl Amanda Dickson (Blue Iris), Nick Offerman (Will Plimpton), Jeffrey Donovan (Jim Hunt), Tig Notaro (Kate Mounier)
Editor: Regis Kimble
Cinematographer: Polly Morgan
Production Designer: Stefania Cella
Casting Director: Ronna Kress
Music Score: Joe Russo
A couple of weeks back, Ad Astra showed us that meditative science fiction can be thought provoking and exciting at the same time. So, how does the “other” big sci-fi release of the season, Lucy in the Sky, fare? Not quite so well.
Lucy in the Sky is about an astronaut, of course named Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman from Jackie and Annihilation), who comes back to Earth after a ten-day mission aboard the International Space Station. Upon her return, all she can think about is going back up, so much so that it becomes an all-encompassing goal that usurps her life, her marriage, and her career.
There’s more to Lucy in the Sky than that, but going further into it spoils some of the fun. And the fun in the movie is so limited that ruining any of it is a crime. Writer/director Noah Hawley (“Fargo,” “Legion”), along with co-writers Brian C. Brown (“About a Boy”) and Elliot DiGuiseppi (Space-Age Rumrunners of the Roaring ‘20s), based the story on actual events surrounding a real astronaut named Lisa Nowak, but if you’re not familiar with her story, don’t Google it. Again, knowing anything at all will take away any enjoyment that you might get out of Lucy in the Sky. And there’s not much enjoyment there to begin with.
At first, Lucy in the Sky is just a bit boring. It’s visually striking, but it’s all just noise, with seemingly very little point to any of it. When the movie gets to its third act, however, it gets crazy. But not the good kind of crazy. The incoherent kind of crazy. There’s a weird tonal shift where it becomes a completely different movie, and it even gets a little exciting for a brief spell, but that’s just enough to frustrate the viewer into thinking that the first ninety minutes were worth sitting through. Unfortunately, the hope comes too late, and it doesn’t pay off. Not even Noah Hawley seems to know what kind of movie it becomes.
There is some merit to Lucy in the Sky. As mentioned earlier, it’s a visually striking movie, and some scenes are stirring, even haunting. A sequence where one of Lucy’s astronaut colleagues, Mark Goodman (Baby Driver’s Jon Hamm), sits at home watching the Challenger disaster on repeat is especially poignant. Portman is good, as is the support cast, especially Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Joker) as a rival astronaut, Dan Stevens (The Guest) as Lucy’s husband, and Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist, Requiem for a Dream) as Lucy’s elderly grandmother. From a technical standpoint, it’s a solid movie.
But boy, is it ever dull. And the dullness is hard to get over.
Oh, and to answer the burning question, yes, the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is in the movie, but it’s not The Beatles’ version, it’s a cover performed by Irish folk songstress Lisa Hannigan and film composer Joe Russo. It’s serviceable, and gets the job done, but it’s an obvious imitation. Which is actually a pretty good metaphor for Lucy in the Sky as a whole.
Sound designers Tobias Poppe (The Shallows, High Life) and Ai-Ling Lee (La La Land, First Man) earn their checks with Lucy in the Sky. The entire movie is a slow and steady decline of Lucy’s mental health, and the sound design layers snippets of dialogue to echo the sounds that the character is hearing inside her head. The soundscape is all made up of audio from earlier in the movie, but anyone with an overactive mind can relate to the maddening rapid-fire voices that step on and interrupt each other inside Lucy’s brain. All of her doubts and fears manifest themselves as aural recollections from her past, and the sound team puts the audience right into her head and allows them to hear – and feel – it all along with her. It’s very well done. Just another stellar technical aspect of a narratively forgettable film.