‘Lucy in the Sky’ TIFF Review: Noah Hawley’s Directorial Debut Falls Short of the Diamonds


Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, Natalie Portman arrives with kaleidoscope eyes. Television legend Noah Hawley of Fargo and Legion promises as much with his feature film directorial debut, but even the thought of a film about a woman’s journey to outer space and back sounds too good to be true after fittingly being named for a Beatles song. Yet as Lucy rises up to the sky, you’re wondering where all the diamonds are, for Lucy in the Sky doesn’t shine as much as you’d want something that sounds like a jewel to do so. It isn’t a bad movie per se, but given the sort of potential that this could have been considering the talent involved, Lucy in the Sky should have been a diamond – but it just never quite gets to that level.


Based around the story of Lisa Nowak, Lucy in the Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, an astronaut who has been changed drastically by her view of Earth from space upon her return. She has been happily married to Drew (Dan Stevens) for a while, but she slowly finds herself losing touch with her normal life – finding more allure in her colleague Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has just recently been divorced. Even as she trains for what could be another important mission for her, her downward spiral puts her personal and professional lives in jeopardy. In trying to bring a character as complicated as Lucy to the big screen, Noah Hawley tries his best with his first time directing a feature to place you closer to her internal struggle but everything outside of her world never feels any more distinctive like a pale blue dot.

It’s easy to admire the sort of ambition that Noah Hawley would place into a project of this sort, but there came a point to where I was wondering if he was also appropriate to tell the story too. Having already proven what he can bring forth to storytelling on the smaller screen, he struggles with telling a story in a more contained format – for his own knacks on television don’t find themselves translating as well as he might have hoped for the bigger screen. It becomes apparent through the many times in which the aspect ratio changes, first appearing wide when we are introduced to Lucy as she is floating through space. It’s wide, like the endless possibilities of what’s out there in space, while sequences on Earth are supposedly more closed – capturing a sense of entrapment in Lucy’s mind. It seems somewhat easy for one to tell what Hawley wants to capture through these aspect ratio changes, but with how frequent they come it is hard to determine the motivation too.

As expected with a cast like this, everyone is reliable as ever. In the titular role of Lucy, Natalie Portman shines like a diamond in the sky – always able to command the screen no matter how big or small it looks. In bringing life to a complex character like Lucy, she makes every moment feel believable. In other supporting roles include Jon Hamm as a fellow astronaut with whom Lucy has found herself smitten with, Dan Stevens as her caring husband, and Zazie Beetz as another astronaut trainee – all of whom make the best of what material they have, even if Noah Hawley doesn’t seem to have enough time for every one of them. Some even feel wasted at that, but it’s hard enough determining what sort of impact do each and every one of them have on Lucy’s psyche when they never feel explored properly at that.

Everything that feels so dazzling about Lucy in the Sky ultimately seems to be its biggest drawback, because Hawley only goes so far with the visuals to the point where it becomes hard to tell what Lucy’s story really is. Lucy’s own existential crisis already feels disorienting enough as is, but there’s almost no way of telling what it is that Noah Hawley wants to convey about where he’s taking her story too. There’s no real stability to the film’s narrative direction, but there still happens to be a great deal I admire with that aspect of the film because of his attempt at trying to tell the story of a complicated character to his audiences. Yet certain aspects never really feel as if they have been fleshed out properly, only leaving her journey feeling inconclusive at best or worst.

Part of me is still hoping that Noah Hawley can refine his own storytelling for the bigger screen again at another point, because there are traces of a great film that can be found in Lucy in the Sky. Yet it seems like certain knacks of his don’t play nearly as well as they do on the big screen as they did on the small screen. Like his television work, Hawley’s writing allows his actors to make the best out of what’s available to them – yet here there’s a point to which you can already feel as if they seem trapped within the limitations. There’s so much more that you can feel that Noah Hawley would have brought to Lucy in the Sky so that it would be much greater, but he falls short of making it there though it could have been worse. No amount of time you’ll see Natalie Portman up above the skies can promise you there are diamonds with Lucy in the Sky.

Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Fox Searchlight.

Directed by Noah Hawley
Screenplay by Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, Noah Hawley
Produced by Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Noah Hawley, John Cameron
Starring Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Colman Domingo, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Pearl Amanda Dickson, Jeffrey Donovan
Release Date: October 4, 2019
Running Time: 124 minutes

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