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An Astronaut Without a Mission: A TIFF Review of ‘Lucy in the Sky’

September 20, 2019Ben MK

It may come as a surprise to some, but Lucy in the Sky, in which Natalie Portman plays an overachieving NASA astronaut, isn't about space travel at all. On the contrary, director Noah Hawley's film — a slow-burning character study of a woman in crisis — is a drama that, for the most part, keeps its feet firmly planted on planet Earth.

Ever since she returned from a recent 10-day space mission, Lucy Cola (Portman) has been having trouble readjusting to her old life, no matter how much her meek but loving husband Drew (Dan Stevens) tries to help. And even though she has a visiting niece (Pearl Amanda Dickson) and an ailing grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) who also demand her attention, Lucy can't shake the nagging feeling that the scope of her day-to-day life on Earth is tiny and insignificant, especially in comparison to the adventure she was just on. Eager to get back into the cockpit of a space shuttle as quickly as possible, she begins the rigorous process of training for her next mission, competing with new recruit Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz) and starting up an affair with NASA's resident bad boy, Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), in the process. But when her plans to return to space are abruptly and unexpectedly halted, Lucy takes the situation into her own hands, embarking on an all-or-nothing road trip across the country in search of revenge.

Making the leap from the world of television, Hawley (best known for his work on Fargo and Legion) employs some curious choices in adapting the story of real-life astronaut Lisa Nowak for the big screen, not the least of which is the decision to regularly alter the aspect ratio throughout the movie. Perhaps it's a strategy intended to distract audiences from the meandering narrative or the thinly drawn characters, but either way, Lucy in the Sky fails to even crack the lower atmosphere, leaving viewers dangling and wondering what the fuss is all about.

Lucy in the Sky makes its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 4 min.

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