It’s the season, apparently, for weirdly arty space dramas starring A-list movie stars. Just weeks after “Ad Astra,” with Brad Pitt, floated into theaters, here we have Noah Hawley’s “Lucy in the Sky,” with Natalie Portman as an astronaut who’s struggling to cope with life on the ground. This one’s loosely based on a real-life story of a former astronaut who drove across the country in 2007 to confront her lover’s new partner. (Everyone remembers this news story because the astronaut reportedly wore a diaper so as to maximize driving time; a detail left out of the movie, for good or ill.)
“Lucy in the Sky” doesn’t seem particularly tethered to that story, or to anything really; it’s a portrait of a woman slowly going mad, told with a lot of camera flourishes that don’t add much to the mix. The frame size changes throughout: getting bigger when Lucy is in space, and smaller, seeming more pinched, when she’s back home in her life. Sometimes this is evocative — that dark quiet of space feels vast and velvety — but more often it’s just distracting.
Portman’s Lucy (yes, the Beatles song makes an appearance and it’s every bit as heavy-handed as you might think) never really emerges from this movie’s fog. We see her trying to process her earthbound — in every sense — life with her husband (Dan Stevens, struggling a bit with an American accent), and entering into an affair with a handsome colleague (an extra-roguish Jon Hamm). She’s disoriented and strangely detached, and while Portman’s performance is skilled, she doesn’t have enough to work with — the character, as written, just isn’t there. “I was born to do this. It’s all I have,” she says passionately midfilm, as her future as an astronaut seems threatened, and we’re not sure where that passion comes from. “Lucy” should soar, but instead, it flatlines.
★★ “Lucy in the Sky,” with Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Colman Domingo, Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Noah Hawley, from a screenplay by Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi and Hawley. 124 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Opens Oct. 11 at multiple theaters.