“Lucy in the Sky” is a manifestation of Newton’s Law of Gravity. It starts with Natalie Portman’s Lucy up in space. “Just a few more minutes” she says like a kid on the playground. She’s floating through the stratosphere, a little white dot blending in with the stars, and all is right above the world. But what comes up must come down. And this by-the-numbers biopic hurtles down into contrivance as the hero hurtles back down to earth.
You know the story. A former astronaut drove across the country in 2007 to fight her lover and his new partner. That alone would make headlines, except she made the drive in a diaper to save time. Was she insane? Who in their right mind would do such a thing and not expect to be on TMZ? Those are the questions TV veteran Noah Hawley (“Fargo”) wants his audience to ponder in his feature debut.
“Earth to Lucy! Earth to Lucy!” I wanted to scream at the screen. She may be back on earth, but she’s still spacing out. Her endearing husband (Dan Stevens doing his best Ned Flanders impersonation) and enduring niece are suddenly insignificant. All that matters now is getting back up there, and if that means cheating on the husband with her devilishly handsome boss (John Hamm), so be it.
It also means an otherworldy amount of philosophical ruminations about how small we are compared to the universe, not to mention the heavy handed metaphors (a cocoon ready to sprout, yellow wallpaper being ripped up in honor of Charlotte Perkins). None of that is as smart as it thinks it is. What IS intelligent is some of Hawley’s surrealist flourishes. A camera that floats through visual space; the aspect ratio closing in on Lucy as she becomes less stable.
Still, all the visual trickery in the world can’t make us root for the heroine at the center. She’s a workaholic. She cheats on her husband. She spends half the day staring out of windows. Even Portman, with her bullcut and teary eyes, can’t bring the character to relatabilty. “I was born to do this. It’s all I have” she stutters, holding back tears. Going back to space isn’t going to happen. All that’s left in the movie is for her to take that road trip, and for us to hear the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Drifting though life, the lyrics read “She feels so incredibly hiiiigh.” Lucy couldn’t be lower.