You can’t blame Noah Hawley for trying, for wanting to cram every metaphor and visual device the innovative TV producer — the mind behind “Fargo” and “Legion” — can pack into his movie directing debut, “Lucy in the Sky.”
The problem is that from space, the problems down on earth, even for an astronaut wrestling with real life upon returning home, seem small and inconsequential — no matter how much polish Hawley and a talented cast apply to them.
Hawley introduces us to that astronaut, Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), while on a spacewalk, with only a tether keeping her from floating away from the International Space Station into the limitless reaches of outer space. The feeling of being in space, on her 13-day mission, is unlike anything she has experienced in training at the Johnson Space Center with fellow mission specialist Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz), or going home to her sweet but dull husband, Drew (Dan Stevens).
Down on earth, we also get hints about the hard life Lucy lived to get where she is. Her nana (Ellen Burstyn), who raised Lucy and her never-seen older brother, is a tough old gal who drinks Crown Royal and smokes while using her oxygen machine. Lucy and Drew are also caring for Lucy’s teen niece, Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson), left behind again by Lucy’s irresponsible brother.
And we get a view of the danger on Lucy’s horizon: Hunky astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who knows what it’s like to be in space — and offers Lucy an escape from the humdrum.
Hawley and screenwriters Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi took inspiration from real-life astronaut Lisa Nowak, whose 2006 cross-country drive to confront her lover’s astronaut girlfriend torpedoed her NASA career. This highly fictionalized version eschews the cheap tabloid details of Nowak’s story, presumably because Hawley wants to consider the weightier issues of love, obsession and the siren call of life in zero gravity.
Alas, Hawley doesn’t bring a lot of profound insight into the astronaut’s breakdown. He instead clutters the screen with visual tricks, like constantly shifting the screen’s aspect ratio — widescreen pans for Lucy’s space mission, a more boxy frame for the stifling claustrophobia of earth living, and other ratios just for the hell of it.’
Portman nearly overcomes those distractions to give a fearlessly unhinged performance as Lucy, who acts like she’s keeping it together even as it’s all falling apart. But we’ve seen Portman go crazy before, and better, in “Black Swan,” and “Lucy in the Sky” doesn’t do much to make us forget Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in that movie.
‘Lucy in the Sky’
Opened October 4 in select cities; opens Friday, October 11, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 124 minutes.