Directed By Noah Hawley
Starring – Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz
The Plot – Portman plays Lucy Cola, a strong woman whose determination and drive as an astronaut take her to space, where she’s deeply moved by the transcendent experience of seeing her life from afar. Back home as Lucy’s world suddenly feels too small, her connection with reality slowly unravels.
Rated R for adult language and some sexual content.
– Psychological warfare. As to where most films document the immensity of space in a way that is awe-inspiring and epic on a grand scale, “Lucy In the Sky” does this, but also with a varying degree of polarization that weighs heavily on the titular protagonist’s mentality, post-space exploration. Hawley puts us front-and-center in the suit of the astronaut, balancing a universal weight in seeing something so unique and rare, and then being asked to return to a life of mundane normalcy that loses much beauty to be desired in its translation. Personal reflection for astronauts are something that is rarely ever depicted in this kind of manner in a film, and this valuable angle of psychological delve benefits us and the film in a way that provides further emphasis into their sacrifices being those that are far greater than a physical and time capacity, as well as the decaying mental stability of its protagonist.
– Smooth camera movements. Most of the photography in the film is done with still-frame execution, but occasionally we get movements in a way that fully fleshes out the evolution of two character dynamics, or to isolate a character who is in a trance from everyone else. It’s not the idea itself that amazed me, but rather the free-flowing progression of the movement that properly channeled the lack of gravity in space, and harvested it on earth to express the intentions of its inclusion. Because of such, we get several dream-like sequences that not only provide uniqueness to the film’s many fantastical sequences, but also channels the psyche of Lucy in a way that provides entrancing visuals to what we’re learning in exposition dialogue.
– Varying aspect ratio. Many critics have labeled this as a negative for the film, but after studying the intentions of Hawley, as well as taken in the movie for myself, I can understand why he uses so many different kinds of lens aspects during so many different times in his film. For starters, the widescreen presentation is used mostly during scenes in space, or even when Lucy is dreaming about space. It captures her ambition vividly, and does so in a way that conveys to us the audience her love for the beauty and immensity of the great beyond. It then often switches to a boxed 4:3 ratio while on Earth. This is not only to play opposite of space, and showcase the lack of inspiration as opposed to a property so infinite, but also to articulate Lucy’s isolation, in feeling so far of a connection from anyone else. In addition to this, we also get several right or left side boxes meant to depict the environments and characters who Lucy is removing from her mind of wonder, as well as to convey the instability from conventionalism, both in the film and her mind, that the story is unraveling. Does it go to the well too often on this gimmick? Absolutely, but to say there’s no meaning in this is severely irresponsible, and overlooks important aspects within the creativity that make this a completely immersive experience into Lucy’s mental fragility.
– Gripping performances. This is certainly Portman’s show for the very onion-peeling transformation that she gives Lucy, but the work of Hamm also shouldn’t be understated here. Both of these actors competently and continuously juggle a southern drawl throughout the film, all the while fleshing out the meaning within their personalities. For Hamm, it’s understanding why Lucy is willing to throw everything in her life away for this man. He’s suave, intelligent, soft-spoken, and especially handsome. Even beyond all of this though, Hamm gets to actually deposit some dramatic acting that we don’t often see from him, and it moves us to several unnerving scenes that amplify the tension to near suffocating levels of intensity. Portman continues to be one of the best actresses in the world, connecting with the audience in a way that produces strong empathy for the character despite some bad things that she does. Natalie’s ability to cry on command goes a long way in investing in her character, but it’s really the riddled anxiety of the performance that relates that this woman could snap at any moment, that really moves it distance, and makes this one of the more emotionally jaded portrayals that the acclaimed actress has had to take on.
– Hawley’s first steps. While a critically acclaimed television writer and director for his magnificent work on “Fargo”, “Lucy In the Sky” is Noah’s first work on a silver screen capacity, and to my surprise created a lot of problems that prove his inexperience. For one, the urgency of this narrative is taken completely out of the picture thanks in part to a series of decisions with the varying pacing of each scene that could’ve used some more edits. Some scenes drown on for too long, and others lack a strong amount of focus to absorb the audience in its drama. This is scene more than anything in the final moments of the film, where Hawley’s foreshadowing narration playing over the scene that is progressing, spoils it in a way that completely removes curiosity or mystery to what’s transpiring. “Lucy” may have been too ambitious of a first project for Hawley, but the story is there if he just stops overthinking the aspects that should flow naturally.
– Tonally imbalanced. For the first half of this film, it stands as a compelling drama, full of enough insight into Lucy, as well as intrigue over the matters developing in the distance. It’s a finely crafted narrative that feels authentic in its intentions. That changes during the second half of the movie, as this becomes a hybrid between a Lifetime Television movie full of lunacy, as well as an unintentional comedy that disrespects the real life character that the movie is based on. Zingy musical montage sequences during sinister planning, on-the-nose dialogue full of cheesy meandering, and an overall change in tonal direction that makes this feel like Hawley abandoned ship after realizing his film was boring up to this point. These are the matters that persist during the most important time of the screenplay, and more than anything feed into the thought process that I had leaving the theater that established this as the most disappointing film of 2019.
– Horrendous soundtrack selections. This also plays a pivotal key in the tonal imbalance that I previously mentioned, but deserves its own mention for the way it constantly shoe-horns cleverness into a scene that was doing fine without it. Considering the movie is called “Lucy In the Sky”, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that The Beatles hit song of the same name is included in the movie, albeit with an emo-rendered cover by an unknown artist, that is so far on-the-nose, that it might as well be a pimple-popping procedure. Beyond this, there’s a surprisingly ridiculous amount of light-hearted tracks that fully compromise everything taking place in the integrity of the scene, giving us two moods that are playing against one another in a way that lacks consistency. Sadly enough, the film’s original musical score from Jeff Russo is effective in emitting the proper ambiguity with what’s taking place internally, but is deposited with such minimal volume and emphasis that it never establishes a presence within the picture.
– Shallow writing. Beyond the ridiculousness that I mentioned with the third act feeling so far out of place than the sum of its parts, the pretentiousness of hollow symbolism comes in far too many times during the film, and establishes what the scene is meaning to convey long before the words ever start. One example of this is Lucy owning a terrarium of caterpillars who are remaining prone to their cocoon’s, signifying Lucy’s own metamorphosis. We’ve seen this lone example done a million different times in a million different films, and while it is the worst example of metaphorical response displayed throughout the film, it is far from the only one. The over-saturation of the color blue to the film’s cinematography is used to display her endless bouts with depression. This manages the subtlety of a tank driving through a dynamite factory, and left my eyes tortured in the very same way that the color yellow did for 2016’s “Assassin’s Creed”.
– Visual distractions. I mentioned earlier about the aspect ratio playing an innovative measure in conveying Lucy’s jaded disposition, but almost equally condemning, this gimmick comes with a few transition problems that serve as a distraction to anyone’s investment into the film. Instead of changing ratios with each edit of the film, leaving as little obviousness as possible, there are these jarring moments of ratio transition that happen right before our very eyes, chalking out the obviousness of the nuanced gimmick long before our minds have a chance to seek the answers out for its reasoning. If this happened a time or two, I could easily forgive its abrupt stature, but the way the minimalizing and maximizing surrendered the attention of the screen frequently even in the same scene, felt like a nagging injury is something that almost takes away from the integrity of the gimmick all together.
– Dated special effects. The use of these are subtle enough in the amount that they are called upon, but jarringly obvious in the way they allude to the lack of authenticity from the sequence. In particular, it’s the way that the hue of the object feels so foreign and easily distinguishable from the rest of the lively properties surrounding it, giving the production a cheap rendering of artistic integrity that takes away from an otherwise gripping consistency of gorgeous cinematography. In my opinion, these effects aren’t even necessarily needed considering how little the film focuses on them. It’s unnecessary influences coming from the weakest of executions, and stacks the deck against a movie convinced that it has a humanly grounded approach to its visual and narrative storytelling.
My Grade: 4/10 or D