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'Lucy In The Sky' Cast Elevates A Film That's Based On 'Doubtful Material'

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Natalie Portman stars as Lucy Cola in "Lucy in the Sky." Lucy's transcendent experience in space deeply moves her, but upon returning back home to Earth, her connection to reality grows more and more unstable.

Astronauts are members of a select club of people who've experienced life outside of Earth. Films over the decades have tried to capture what it is like to be in space and prepare for these missions. Few have effectively taken a deep, personal dive into the minds of the astronauts themselves.

The new film Lucy in the Sky tells the story of the fictional Lucy Cola (played by Natalie Portman) — one of the first female astronauts to venture into space — and her challenging return to Earth, readjusting to life beneath the stars.

"The character Natalie Portman plays is supposed to be bowled over by the immensity of the celestial cosmos, and I see it in her eyes, but I don't feel it watching the movie," says film contributor Dave Luhrssen.

The film is loosely inspired by the real-life story of astronaut Lisa Nowak. She infamously drove from Houston to Orlando with the intent of kidnapping the girlfriend of a man with whom she was having an affair.

However, Luhrssen notes that " 'inspiration' gives you an enormous spectrum of possibilities."

Lucy in the Sky is director Noah Hawley's big-screen debut. He's best known for helming TV shows Legion and Fargo.

"[Hawley's] quirky trick bag of stuff that he does seems a little bit adventurous on the small screen," says Luhrssen."On the big screen, I don't think it worked particularly well."

However, what prevented the film from burning in the atmosphere was the caliber of the casting according to Luhrssen. 

"I think that [Natalie Portman is] a remarkable actor, who in this role, pushes herself into another area," he says. "I think if ... the director would've cast someone lesser than [Portman] it could've been a really terrible movie, actually."

Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz, Tig Notaro and Nick Offerman are just a few among other well-respected actors included in the cast.

"I think that [Portman] and the supporting cast really do serve to elevate [the film] beyond what it might have been," Luhrssen adds.

Another one of the film's strengths is the way it portrays the unique kind of bonding that can occur among groups of people who have a unique experience, according to Luhrssen. However, he questions how well a film can do when it is based on a tabloid story.

"I think what the story is based on is doubtful material," notes Luhrssen. "The sensationalism overtakes it just maybe by the nature of what it is. Could a more sophisticated screenplay have handled this differently? I think so."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.