Lucy in the Sky

Lucy in the Sky is “inspired by real events” concerning astronaut Lisa Nowak, which makes it even more irritating that the lead character’s name was changed to protect the use of a really stupid title. But that’s just one of many bizarre calls in a movie that uses a sordid scandal as an excuse to careen wildly between campy weirdness and serious filmmaking. The audience wouldn’t even notice if a projectionist accidentally dropped in a reel of Holly Hunter starring in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.

Natalie Portman is certainly doing her best Hunter impersonation here as an astronaut from the wrong side of the tracks who’s made good with NASA. She’s having a tough time recovering from her recent stint in outer space. For example, the character appears in movie scenes that have a constantly changing screen aspect ratio. The glories of space are practically Cinemascope, while her Earthly adventures are pretty much crammed into a perfect box. Nothing subtle there – but it’s pretty cool when the screen opens up to show the beauty of a bowling alley.

Since she isn’t watching the movie, though, Portman’s character of Lucy Cola only becomes more dissatisfied with life on Earth. Yeah, the last name is another snide take on the character. Lisa Nowak became a trashy icon over news reports – later denied – that she had worn adult diapers so that she could drive non-stop from Houston to Orlando, Fla., in her attempt to kidnap a fellow female astronaut over a romantic triangle. Lucy skips that fun allegation, but piles on plenty of other tacky touches in this Diary of a Mad Spacewife.

Ellen Burstyn is straight out of a sitcom while smoking and drinking as Lucy’s foul-mouthed mother. Lucy’s husband is a solidly dorky stereotype as he says grace while sporting a short-sleeve dress shirt and dopey mustache. In a turn that’s typical of the movie, he still gets some great dialogue. That includes describing Lucy’s illicit love interest (played by Jon Hamm) as a “divorced action figure.”

Hamm does a great job as the womanizing “mentor” who takes advantage of Lucy’s confused state. He even mocks the married woman as a “straight arrow” for some Seduction 101 scenes straight out of a soap opera. The film doesn’t dissolve into some kind of sisterhood saga, though. One of the running gags is Lucy constantly relying on pre-packaged empowerment to pass as a dedicated overachiever. She can’t even get invited to “settle in” without shouting back, “Never settle!”

That’s all part of the general weirdness, along with some heavy-handed symbolism. The cocoons that Lucy carries around in a jar still offer a neat payoff, and it’s probably no coincidence that the unglamorous gal gets ready for her airport attack by grabbing a wig that’s pure Jennifer Aniston.

By then, Lucy is already deep into its own transformation into a not-so-tense thriller – with a sharp closing segment shot in the style of vintage Brian De Palma. The film wraps up as a bizarre but promising big-screen directorial debut from Noah Hawley. He’s best known for penning the quirky trashiness of the Fargo cable series, and even Lucy in the Sky’s most moronic moment (featuring a certain Beatles song, of course) may count as the impressionistic point-of-view of a hick drama queen.