“Lucy in the Sky” is the only movie I can think of that would have been improved by the addition of adult diapers. Loosely based on the exploits of former naval flight officer turned NASA Astronaut Lisa Nowak, the new Natalie Portman movie recreates the troubled astronaut’s cross-country drive minus one juicy detail—the diapers she allegedly wore to eliminate the need for rest stops.
Portman plays Lucy Cola, an astronaut having trouble to adapting to life on terra firma. After being in space, witnessing the vastness of the world while floating far above it, her eager-to-please husband (Dan Stevens) and teenage niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) seem hopelessly earthbound. “You go up to space and see the whole universe,” she says, “and then you come back and everything is so small. What are you supposed to do? Go to Applebee’s?”
She finds a kindred soul in Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), another NASA vet described as “a divorced action figure who likes to go fast.” Casual chats soon turn into an affair, although while Lucy falls deeply head over heels, Mark sees it as a fling and continues to date other women, including new recruit Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz).
As her mental state erodes Lucy throws herself into training for a new mission until she becomes a danger to herself and others. Cut loose from the only job she cares about the frantic Lucy drives cross country to confront—or worse—Goodwin. “You’re going to lose,” she shouts, “because I’m a winner.”
“Lucy in the Sky” is a character driven drama that offers up only the scantest insight into Lucy’s psychosis. Director Noah Hawley plays around visually, changing the aspect ratio and focus to convey Lucy’s loosened grip on reality but it is all surface and while there are some striking images, the insight never transcends cliché.
Portman isn’t given much to work with. She’s a walking cliché, a character who ticks a number of “interesting” traits off a check list only to have them add up to a less than compelling character. She isn’t aided by a script that requires her to say things like “All systems go!” when asked about her mental state.
The supporting actors don’t fare much better. As Lucy’s husband Stevens is a one note goody two-shoes, annoying to the point where you begin to understand why she wandered away from the marriage. Ellen Burstyn is a bit of fun as Lucy’s potty-mouth mother, but she seems to have drifted in from another movie. Only Hamm emerges more or less unscathed, handing in the kind of tortured leading man performance that allows him to have moments of introspection, like when he watches footage of the Challenger explosion over-and-over before heading to space, and be a bit of a playboy. There’s not much to his character but at least Hamm breathes some life into him.
The story that inspired the film is ripped straight from the tabloids, all lurid details, but “Lucy in the Sky” glosses over most of them (i.e.: the adult diapers) in favor of an oversimplified look at mental illness that never takes flight.