A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lucy in the Sky is a fact-based drama about astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), who starts becoming disassociated from reality after she returns from a mission to space and makes an attempt on someone's life. The movie shows the pressures of NASA training and space missions and suggests that being seen as heroes can be hard for those in the astronaut program. Sexual content is mature, particularly a scene in which a man performs oral sex on a woman as she moans (no nudity). Violence is infrequent and mostly implied, like when Lucy grabs a rope, a knife, and duct tape on the way to confront a romantic rival. Characters often drink too much -- when they do, they slur and stumble. Alcohol also makes a woman brave enough to pursue an extramarital affair. Language is scattered throughout the movie; one character frequently calls others "f--ker," and we also hear "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," and "ass." A character who uses an oxygen tank smokes and is chided by a loved one. Female astronauts have strong roles, but at least one doesn't exactly live up to the hero designation (though she is driven and hardworking).
What's the story?
Based loosely on the life story of Lisa Nowak, the notorious former astronaut who drove 900 miles nonstop to confront a romantic rival, LUCY IN THE SKY chronicles the downfall of Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) after she returns from a mission. Hard driving and competitive, all Lucy thinks about at first is getting back up in space, particularly when her competitive nature is sparked by fellow female astronaut Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz). But when Lucy begins an affair with Mark (Jon Hamm), suddenly the supportive love her husband, Drew (Dan Stevens), provides just isn't enough, and her ordinary life starts feeling like a trap. As Lucy's existence grows steadily more unbearable, she makes more and more mistakes -- finally ending up on one mission that will change her life forever.
Is it any good?
This "astronaut on the verge of a nervous breakdown" drama is fitfully compelling, but ultimately it's too long and doesn't effectively close the loop, message-wise. Is Lucy in the Sky a drama about a female astronaut facing sexism and marginalization at work by men who term her hysterical? A horror story about a woman who's losing her grip due to sexual jealousy? A cautionary fable about the pressures of NASA and the potential for "space crazies"? As we watch Portman slowly lose her grip -- and she does so sympathetically, audiences will have to admit -- we're not really reached by her anguish, because it's unclear exactly what it's about. Some may argue that Lisa Nowak, the former astronaut whose tumultuous life story forms the basis for this film, never really spelled out exactly why she committed her notorious crime -- but shouldn't a movie about just that nail down the main character's reasoning? Or else what is a movie about it for?
No matter. Director Noah Hawley, best known for his work on another true-crime-adjacent drama, Fargo, creates cinematic magic at times. As Lucy dreams about returning to space and obsessively remembers the time she spent there, beautiful imagery of stars, clouds, and silent Lucy in her suit casts a dreamlike spell. But that's not enough to carry viewers through Lucy's long breakdown. It's curious, too, that Hawley added a daughter-ish figure to the story -- it's unduly cruel that she's dragged along on Lucy's devilish drive and then apparently abandoned by her aunt forever (though her uncle by marriage thankfully seems to take her in). It's just one more puzzling choice in a movie that's full of them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Lucy in the Sky depicts space travel. Does it seem realistic? Which parts feel authentic -- or fake?
Did you know that the film is based on a real-life astronaut who was arrested in 2007? Do you find that surprising? How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers change the facts in a story based on true events?
The director uses camera tricks to show Lucy's state of mind -- notice how the camera's field of depth widens expansively when she's feeling optimistic and closes down to a small space when she's stressed. Would you have noticed this change if you hadn't been told to take a look? What does the change communicate visually?
- In theaters: October 4, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 17, 2019
- Cast: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz
- Director: Noah Hawley
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Space and Aliens
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexual content
- Last updated: April 14, 2020
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