Legion and Fargo TV show creator Noah Hawley has been fairly accused of (at times) prioritizing stylish visuals at the expense of storytelling in his work. It a criticism that also applies to his feature directing debut on Lucy in the Sky, a film partly inspired by former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak attempted kidnapping, burglary, and assault in 2007. The movie tries to use this incident as the jumping-off point for a story that considers what being in outer space for a long time could do to a person psychologically after they return to earth, but any potential insight is lost in the execution.
But when she enters an affair with playboy astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm) in an effort to recapture the thrill of being off-planet, Lucy finds herself in danger of going off the deep end. Whereas a number of recent movies have attempted to portray space in a realistic fashion (see: First Man, Ad Astra), Hawley film makes the cold nothingness of the universe seem resplendent and psychedelic in these first few minutes. Hawley goes on to use many of the same techniques (hyper-stylized shots, fragmented editing) as previous Portman-led psychological dramas (Black Swan and Jackie in particular) have to express her characters' deteriorating mental state.
It an awkward tonal shift and even comes with a somewhat bizarre pseudo-empowerment message that only calls more attention to how under-written the movie female characters (including, Pearl Amanda Dickson as Lucy niece and Ellen Burstyn in an amusing turn as her foul-mouthed grandmother) truly are.
To be clear, that surely was not the intention, and Lucy in the Sky is really just trying to be a thoughtful character study (one loosely inspired by terrible real-world events) that uses its trippy imagery and editing to pull audiences into its troubled protagonist mindset. Whether that because the movie premise is fundamentally flawed (as real-life retired astronaut Marsha Ivins argued in a TIME editorial published back in 2017) is up for debate, but Hawley ambition is undeniable all the same.