A character study with a dollop of magical realism, Noah Hawley’s Lucy in the Sky, which premiered on Wednesday at the Toronto International Film Festival, is ultimately stymied by its own ambitiousness. Unsure of whether to be a portrait of a marriage, a meditation on the foibles of space travel, or a feminist exploration of gender inequities in the workplace, Lucy is most appealing when highlighting Natalie Portman’s bravura turn in the title role.
Hawley’s film is loosely inspired by the saga of Lisa Nowak (although an opening title merely tells us that it is based on a true story), the astronaut who faced kidnapping charges in 2007 after driving from Houston to Florida to confront a romantic rival. Lucy fleshes out the bare bones of Nowak’s escapades (which were invariably labeled “bizarre” by the press at the time; reports, which she denied, that she wore an adult diaper to avoid pit stops made her a much-lampooned figure) by making her fictional surrogate, Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), a supremely capable woman plagued by anguish after she returns from a successful mission in space.
Despite her supportive but dull husband Drew (Dan Stevens), a loving niece, and an affectionately crotchety grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), Lucy’s life feels empty after returning to earth. She wistfully remarks that “she never felt more alive” than when she was in space. While one assumes that the celestial vibrancy she experienced was more mystical than erotic, the void that envelops her is temporarily filled by an affair with Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), a fellow astronaut known as a ladies’ man.