Cinematic Releases: Lucy in the Sky (2019) - Reviewed

Lucy in the Sky is a drama (very loosely inspired by real events) about an astronaut who struggles to readjust to her regular life after a trip to outer space. It is full of long shots evoking how small the world now looks to her (or her detachment from it) and a plethora of metaphors for rebirth. The visuals are an attempt to add depth to a story that does not have any. There is no emotion or deeper meaning to her actions. We watch as a woman we never really get to know unravels. There is nothing for the viewer to sink their teeth into, so it is just some nice visuals and a skilled cast stranded in a boring movie.

The biggest issue Lucy has is, while it is clear she is a different person than she was when she left, we only get to know her after. It sounds like she has always been a hard worker who is good at her job, but what kind of person was she outside of that? Was she a good wife/friend/aunt? What were her dreams? What made her happy? Now, her sole defining trait is a desperate need to get back into space. Everything else in her life starts to fall apart, however it was difficult for me to engage because I had no idea if she enjoyed any of it to begin with.

Perhaps that would have been less of a problem if Lucy jogged through its thin story. Unfortunately, it crawls. The intention could have been for this to be a character study, yet it never gets inside Lucy’s head. There are a couple of scenes dedicated to her training, the rest is spent on clunky dialogue and many shots of her staring off into the distance. What remains is a story without detail about a protagonist whose internal journey is vague. This movie feels every bit of its two hour run time.

Natalie Portman plays Lucy. Her supporting cast is filled with Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Jeffrey Donovan and Tig Notaro. Director Noah Hawley is making his big screen debut, but he previously created the TV series Fargo and Legion. I only list these names to hammer home the point that even very accomplished and talented people can come together to create something so empty of substance. The actors are mostly fine, though there is not much they can do with such bland characters. Still, there were a handful of instances where their charm came through. Sadly, the screenplay features none of the cleverness of Hawley’s shows. Also, his direction tries way too hard to supply every scene with symbolism. The production crumples under all these failed attempts at instilling importance.

The most significant thing to note about Lucy in the Sky is it is not a biopic. It uses the rough outline of a true story to examine the effect the experience of space travel has on people. It is possible Lucy’s psyche is not delved into because she is supposed to be representative of all returning astronauts (though hopefully an extreme example), rather than an individual. That is a potentially intriguing topic to explore. But Hawley, despite a few stabs at existentialism, keeps things at the level of “space is big, normal life is small.” While that is enough to drive Lucy to self-destructive behavior, it is not enough to sustain this movie.

--Ben Pivoz