While it’s based on the bizarre 2007 story of the female astronaut who drove 900 miles in adult diapers to confront an ex-boyfriend, Lucy in the Sky doesn’t include that intimate detail. Then again, the movie shits the bed in so many other ways, it may have been overkill. Director Noah Hawley (TV’s Fargo) omits the headline-making undergarment, instead stocking up on paper-thin observations about workplace misogyny and mental health in a cloying feature debut that begs to be scorned.
Sporting a labored Southern accent and a dreadful bowl cut, Natalie Portman (uncharacteristically vacant) plays a version of Lisa Nowak, here renamed Lucy Cola—an overachiever struggling with her earthbound insignificance after a magical mission to the cosmos. Lucy’s squarely nice husband (Dan Stevens) and sweet niece don’t help her readjust, so she finds consolation in an affair with a fellow astronaut (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, lazily cast as another cocky womanizer.) But when his attention shifts to a different trainee, Lucy’s handle on reality weakens, especially after she loses both her feisty grandma (a welcome, wisecracking Ellen Burstyn) and her next celestial assignment, on grounds of emotional instability.
Co-screenwriters Hawley, Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi offensively pin Lucy’s breakdown and consequent ill-fated road trip on NASA’s ingrained sexism, bypassing an empathetic assessment of her unraveling cognitive state. Meanwhile Regis Kimble’s erratic editing, cinematographer Polly Morgan’s obvious visual gimmicks (including frequent shifts in aspect ratio: wide when Lucy feels at ease in space, boxy when she’s confined) and a tortured cover of the inevitable Beatles song litter the film with clichés. (It would be unfair to expect First Man–level psychological finesse from a movie that dwells on a butterfly-chrysalis allegory.) Airless and stuck in failure-to-launch mode, Lucy in the Sky is stubbornly uninterested in exploring the inner space it should have.