Do you ever get that feeling of disappointment when someone you admire makes it makes a universally paned piece of media but realistically as a follow-up of their previous work you should have seen it coming. That is how I felt about Noah Hawley’s Natalie Portman starring feature directorial debut Lucy In the Sky. On his day Hawley is one of the best showrunners working today with the ability to craft compelling, superbly written and performed seasons (best on display in Fargo season 1 and 2.) That said Hawley also has a tendency for very indulgent experimentation and weirdness with his other TV project the Marvel Comics adaptation Legion which has moments of his brilliance but also a lot of padding and style over substance. I was excited when I heard he was making a feature starring Portman as an astronaut who has just returned from space but what I heard the reviews out of various festivals it became clear that this belonged on the more indulgent side of Hawley’s work and had been universally panned. I want to see it in cinemas, but Fox very wisely gave the film an extremely limited release in the UK with no sign of a physical home media release. That said it did drop on digital platforms during lockdown, so I rented it in 4K HDR and I gave it a watch. Was it as bad as I feared?
Yes and no. On the one had its dull, pretentious flooding and borderline embarrassing by the third act. That said it is mostly an extension of the kind of problems you can already see in Hawley’s weaker TV work. As a filmmaker he likes changing aspect ratios or shooting style but on Legion there was at least some form of plot momentum or thematic point that he was trying to get across. Here It feels like Hawley’s employing these techniques (especially with more pointless aspect ratio shifts then Michael Bay (it will sometimes change within the same shot) to cover up the wafer-thin plot. There is some very vague discussion of emotional and psychological impact of space travel and a love triangle that forms between Portman Jon Hamm and Dan Stevens, but all of this is massively undercooked. There are very occasional moments where the aspect ratio widens out for the outer space sections and Hawley’s talent starts to shine through but the very quickly crash back down to earth and resumes pretentious nonsense. Hawley is a filmmaker with clear talent and the filmmaking world is definitely capable of getting something from him on the level of Fargo season 1 and 2 2(3 is solid but something of a step-down) but if this debut feature should tell executives anything it’s that he requires some level of oversight in order to bring out his best work.
Lucy In the Sky is an objectively terrible film. That said it’s hard for me to get to angry about it because it’s faults were exactly what I was expecting having seen 6 seasons of Hawley TV work and what brings out the best and worst in him as a creator. Whether the film world will ever get to see something from the Hawley responsible for Fargo seasons 1 and 2 remains to be seen but I certainly think it is possible with the correct oversight. In the meantime, Fargo season 4 is on the horizon and it will be interesting to see if Hawley rebounds from this total failure.