Director Noah Hawley displays a unique visual style that makes “Lucy In The Sky” cinematic and dynamic despite a less than fulfilling narrative. Hawley makes a strong feature film debut with “Lucy” after working as a showrunner on television series like “Fargo” and Legion.”
The strength of “Lucy” rests in Hawley’s manipulation of the aspect ratio as a way to explain the motives of lead character astronaut Lucy Coke, played with a sense of abandonment by Natalie Portman.
The aspect ratio of a film is how the viewer perceives the frame. When Lucy is in outer space the screen is wide and long, but when Lucy returns to Earth the terrestrial scenes are boxy and square like an old time movie.
Portman brings a depth to her performance of a NASA employee that goes beyond some sympathetic mousey turn as a loyal wife and career pilot. Lucy has already been on a shuttle mission but the competition is cruel. To make the cut for the next mission she must exceed her physical and mental boundaries.
Most of the time you identify with Portman’s plight as a woman in a male corporate world. Her supervisor is oppressive and her shrink (a beaded and wheelchair bound Nick Offerman, cleverly downplaying his role) wants her to come clean but about what we never know.
Dan Stevens with a perfect American accent plays Lucy’s husband with a religious streak that undermines her need for independence. Jon Hamm as macho Mark Goodman fits in just fine as a fellow astronaut-slash-womanizer who easily seduces Lucy. Zazie Beets (also in “Joker”) plays the woman caught in the middle of the Hamm and Portman affair. Ellen Burstyn pops up as Lucy’s hard drinking mother.
When Lucy returns to Earth after having been one of a handful of people that have walked in space she undergoes a crisis of identity. Space is infinite and the ground beneath is filled with hurdles that prevent Lucy from being chosen for the next shuttle mission.
When Lucy’s affair with Goodman turns out to be a momentary roll in the hay she goes haywire and drives twenty-hours straight, from Houston to San Diego, to stalk and perhaps kill him.
The entire plot seems lifted from the real life exploits of astronaut Lisa Nowak who was on shuttle mission STS-121 and stalked her boyfriend with less than successful results. Nowak drove from Houston to Florida in record time using adult diapers and limited gas stops to save time.
Hawley seems more concerned with examining the societal pressures of being a woman in a male dominated world than the exploitive elements of the story, although the latter seems to pop up as a way to propel the histrionics of the story.
“Lucy In The Sky” should be viewed in a theater as the constant back and forth from wide to small screen framing defines the kind of attention best achieved when you are watching a movie in an actual theater.
The melodramatic moments of “Lucy” will be viewed with consternation by some who want all the pieces of the plot to be delivered like a birthday present all bound and delight by those that seek a film willing to push the boundaries of normal storytelling.
Any big studio would cut a trailer that proclaims Academy Award® winners Natalie Portman and Ellen Burstyn among the performers, but distributor Fox Searchight, still independent but now under the Disney tent, appears to be keeping this release close to the vest.
“Lucy In The Sky” opens exclusively at the River Oaks Theatre this weekend.
Japanese icon Takashi Miike has directed more films than Scorsese and Spielberg and Tarantino combined. Miike’s latest movie dives into Yakuza retribution, young love and massive shoot-outs but not necessarily in that order.
Remember the shoot-out from the Denzel starrer “The Equalizer” that took place in a hardware store? Miike’s “First Love” exceeds that scene to such a degree you may never recover from your love of generic American genre fluff.
There’s truth in every frame of a Miike film yet he also knows how to cut to a severed head rolling from the alley and into the street with a sense of poetry. Miike has made over 100 films.
“First Love” unwinds exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse La Centerra starting this weekend.