Lucy in the Sky (3 stars)

Lucy in the Sky

TIFF 2019: Stylistic devices distract from Natalie Portman's committed performance in Noah Hawley's cinematic debut

How is it possible to return to normality when you have gazed on the vast wonder of the universe? In Lucy in the Sky, astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) has returned home from her first space mission. She is physically fit, mentally strong and hungry to return to training. It is her constant assertions of 'I'm fine' that start to ring hollow.

It soon becomes clear that Lucy is anything but fine. Her sweet, nice-guy husband Drew (an unrecognisable Dan Stevens) seems more boring than ever. Fellow astronaut and recently divorced dad Mark (Jon Hamm) is such a rugged hunk that he is impossible to resist. A fling turns into an affair that means more to her than him. It may be based on the true story of Lisa Nowak, but the character's unrequited intensity soon tips the film towards Fatal Attraction bunny boiler territory.

Director Noah Hawley made his name on TV's Fargo and Legion and works hard (too hard perhaps) to make his cinematic debut a visceral, immersive experience. When her return to space is placed in jeopardy and her grandmother's health starts to decline, the pressure on Lucy is immense. Changing aspect ratios, slow motion sequences, flashback shards of euphoric memories are among the stylistic devices deployed to place us into her extreme emotional states and unravelling mind. It works to some extent but often feels more of a distraction.

Portman's committed performance is reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster, conveying a sense of Lucy's aggressive drive to succeed and need to create order from the increasing chaos of her mind. What Hawley fails to achieve is a deeper insight into her actions and fall from grace. In the end, there is more style than substance to his tale.

Screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 6 Dec.

Lucy in the Sky

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h 4min
  • Directed by: Noah Hawley
  • Cast: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz
  • UK release: 6 December 2019

Lucy (Portman) is an astronaut back from her first space mission, who soon starts to be attracted to fellow astronaut and recently divorced dad Mark (Hamm). It soon goes into Fatal Attraction territory, and while Portman’s commitment is reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster, the film is more style than substance.