Festival Coverage Reviews

[TIFF 2019]: Not Even Natalie Portman Can Save LUCY IN THE SKY From Disaster

Lauren reviews Noah Hawley's feature film directorial debut.

Lucy in the Sky, the feature film directorial debut from writer/producer of Fargo and Legion Noah Hawley, was a film that topped many most anticipated lists for TIFF (mine included), but it unfortunately, it quickly found its way to the top of a different list: the worst of TIFF (joining the ranks of films such as Life Itself from last year’s lineup).

Lucy in the Sky (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Inspired by true events, Lucy in the Sky follows Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), an astronaut who has recently returned to earth, who is struggling to transition back into the realities of every day life. Soon enough, her self destructive tendencies begin to take over and control her life.

It’s an interesting concept, and one that is quite understandable. How can you possibly grasp how small earth is after you have looked at it from among the stars? Noah Hawley sets out to show us how some people just can’t—that there is no coming back from what Lucy Cola experienced out in space—which causes her to do everything in her power to return to space as quickly as possible.

I can’t talk about this film any more until I mention the aspect ratio changes in this, because it’s completely absurd. I am shocked at how this passed through however many rounds of editing and the crew still kept all those aspect ratio changes in. Every change seemed to require a new—and ridiculous—aspect ratio, and it never really feels like there’s a point to it. Somehow I thought I had accidentally stumbled into a screening of an SNL style skit about the editing of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy.

It would also be difficult to go any further into a review without discussing the scene that we all saw coming: the one that includes the titular Beatles song, and oh boy, it is an experience. The best way I can think to sum up this scene is that there were 2 people in my screening who were audibly laughing throughout the entire duration (it’s a scene that actually depicts one of the most heartbreaking moments of the film).

Lucy in the Sky (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I have to give it to Natalie Portman, she did do what she could with what material she was given. With that said though, she wasn’t given much at all. If a film can make Natalie Portman seem like a bad actress, something really must have gone wrong. The dialogue and characters feel empty, with the only exception being Ellen Burstyn—truly a ray of sunshine and providing (genuine) laughs in this otherwise grey and nonsensical script.

There is no effort made by this film to attempt to have the audience empathize with Lucy. We are hardly shown any moments from space except a brief opening scene, we have no entry into her head space to understand her thought process, and we have very little knowledge of who she is beyond her profession. In a film that seemed to spend the first quarter of the film going against and criticizing the notion that women are too emotionally unstable to succeed in fields such as space exploration, it makes no sense that it spends the whole rest of the film portraying this story about an emotionally unstable character who we have zero reason to sympathize with. However, the fact that it was written and directed by a man would maybe explain this strange and misguided portrayal.

In the midst of many fantastic space dramas (although the lack of space as a setting might just disqualify it as a “space” film), Lucy in the Sky won’t hold up against any of them. It’s unfortunate that this film has an extremely compelling synopsis, but fails in its attempt to bring anything of substance to the screen.

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