REVIEW: LUCY IN THE SKY is an intriguing genre mash that examines the existential imprisonment of a life lived too ordinary.


Writer/Director Noah Hawley makes his feature directorial debut with an engaging existential dark comedy with hints of magical realism reminiscent of the early films of the Coen Brothers.

In many ways, Noah Fawley’s directorial debut Lucy in the Sky has a lot in common with the Alan Ball and Sam Mendes film American Beauty. Both explore protagonists whose everyday routine in life becomes something of a prison they need to escape to find meaning and escape the restless ennui that seems to define them. In the case of Natalie Portman’s Lucy Cola, she has just returned from a space mission in the aptly named Space Shuttle Destiny. This mission gives Lucy a glimpse at the speck she is in the grander scheme in the universe; a universe where she previously defined herself by her drive to win and be seen as something special. Her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn) instilled this drive in her and tells her grandniece Blue Iris (Legion’s Pearl Amanda Dickson) to keep an eye on her, she is something. But, fresh from the euphoria of the mission, all Lucy wants is to get back to space again at any cost, eyeing the Orion mission in 13 months as her best bet. Along the way, fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm) invites her to a secret society of NASA astronauts who have walked in space and she shares with them how small she feels the world is and how she is looking for something to ground her. Ultimately, she looks for an escape from her life which seems small to her now. Her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) is nebbish and remarkably ordinary. She comes from a broken upbringing and, after all the struggle to become an astronaut, she sees space as the only real thing that makes her special and powerful. She starts a relationship with Mark to feel something aside from the loss of grandeur she has on Earth and this begins a downward spiral where we examine the effect of what her ennui has on her, her family, life, and career. She keeps a pupa in a jar wiating for it to escape and wonders aloud why something has to destroy itself in order to be able to fly.

As a viewer and fan of Hawley’s work on FX’s Fargo and Legion, if you are a fan of the visual poetry and eccentric narrative structure Hawley often uses to explore his character’s inner life through music and unique and iconic imagery, Lucy in the Sky is the film for you. Hawley’s signature style is all over this film, as he uses the canvas of the film screen as a narrative tool. Lucy’s life on Earth is framed in a 4:3 box reminiscent of a TV aspect ratio with fuzzy edges on the side. It’s only when Lucy explores things outside her routine that the screen goes to a 16:9 widescreen ratio. The aspect ratio changes often throughout the film; it pans, resizes, and folds as the story unfolds. As a viewer, you’re either going to run with this narrative aspect, or it is going to bother you tremendously. Similarly, if you like straight forward narrative dramas, we get a lot of magical realism exploring the canvas of Lucy’s feelings. It’s a lot like The Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona in this regard and if you have an issue with creative exploration of character depth, it will not win you over. That being said, the film boasts a number of great performances to keep you engaged. Portman’s Lucy is in some ways a mash-up of her character from Black Swan coupled with Margo Robbie’s Tonya Harding; a poor girl who exceeds at her field who loses what makes her special but still uses her drive to try and recapture that feeling in some way or form. Jon Hamm’s Mark Goodwin drips with that Mad Men charisma even if it comes across as effortlessly as a performance in the Don Draper mold. Similarly, Pearl Amanda Dickson and Ellen Burstyn shine as Lucy’s niece and Nana and both make the most of their screentime, especially Burstyn.

Lucy in the Sky is a unique film with an auteur’s point of view. It may not be for everyone, but if the idea of a dark comic drama about the life of an astronaut on the road to do whatever it takes to get into space strikes you as interesting, I encourage you to give it a view. If you love Hawley’s past work in Legion and Fargo, you will love this, In many ways, it feels like a truncated 4th season of Fargo and definitely has the feeling of a Coen Brothers film all over it with an eclectic flair of fantasy.