By Leslie C. Halpern
This sci-fi drama is loosely based on the bizarre true story of Lisa Nowak, (aka “The Diaper Astronaut,”) a married naval flight officer and NASA mission specialist, who in 2007 drove from Houston, Texas (reportedly wearing a diaper to avoid stopping) to Orlando, Florida where she attacked and attempted to kidnap her former lover’s new girlfriend at the Orlando International Airport.
The strangeness of a highly respected astronaut who flew on Space Shuttle Discovery suddenly losing her mind over an extra-marital fling gone wrong made international news and inspired enormous interest in the all-astronaut love triangle.
Also dubbed, “The Astro-Nut,” Nowak also inspired the new film Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola (the Nowak character) and Jon Hamm as womanizer Mark Goodwin (her illicit love interest). Zazie Beetz plays Erin, the target of Lucy’s jealousy, and Dan Stevens portrays Lucy’s self-righteous and completely oblivious husband.
The Diaper Astronaut
In addition to names being changed, this fictionalized version of reality makes other curiously random alterations, such as conjuring hallucinations of Lucy’s dead grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), adding a niece to her cross-county ride, changing the location from Orlando to San Diego, having Lucy attack Mark instead of Erin, and eliminating any mention of adult diapers. If the filmmakers wanted to make Lucy a more likable character with these changes, they weren’t particularly successful as she come across as self-centered, obsessive, and cold-blooded (and that’s before she completely goes off the rails following a tragedy).
Liberties taken with the story, however, pale in comparison to liberties taken with the cinematography. Apparently used as a metaphor, the edges of the screen are blurry after Lucy returns from her mission, as if her experience in space has figuratively altered her view of reality. This technique also literally changes the way the audience views her reality.
As she drifts further into mental illness, the blurriness expands beyond the outer edges of the screen. While this artful idea may have sounded great in pre-production, it’s a headache-inducing mess onscreen. Likewise, the inexplicable aspect ratio shifting back and forth from widescreen to full-screen throughout the movie is jarring, confusing, distracting, and unnecessary.
Exciting Scenes of NASA
Inspired by true events (but not based on true events) and subjected to the aforementioned ill-conceived cinematic metaphors for mental illness, this film also suffers from uneven pacing (long, dull scenes of home life and exciting scenes of NASA) and stereotypical characters (eccentric, foul-mouthed grandma) that blatantly show Lucy’s mental breakdown was a combination of internal and external factors.
Despite two beautiful co-stars, intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the space program, and good intentions, this filmed fiction is surprisingly less interesting than the reality on which it’s based.
Lucy in the Sky
Inspired by true events, this fictionalized story describes astronaut Lucy Cola, who loses touch with reality after returning from a mission in space.
- Stars: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Pearl Amanda Dickson, Ellen Burstyn
- Director: Noah Hawley
- Genre: Science Fiction Drama
- Run Time: 124 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for language and sexual content)
Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.