By Cynthia Citron

Anyone who was a Beatles fan back in the day (and who on earth wasn’t?) will recall immediately where Lucy was and what she had with her. She was in the sky. With diamonds.

In an intriguing new film called “Lucy in the Sky” co-writer and director Noah Hawley posits what the rest of Lucy’s life might have been like when she returned to earth after 10 days of flying among the twinkling diamonds of outer space.

In this film Lucy is an astronaut who makes her first extraterrestrial voyage and is forever changed by the experience. It’s a science fiction story, after all. And the beautiful Natalie Portman is as glittering as the distant stars.

As the film opens she is returning to the test lab after having spent time floating in the air outside. The film goes on to show her undergoing a mind-boggling series of tests that will prepare her for the vicissitudes—and the potential accidents—that she might encounter on the flight.

Never having been an astronaut myself, I was fascinated and impressed by the preparations for the trip. And for the emotional confusion that enveloped Lucy after she returned. But other critics who obviously know more about the subject than I, thought the film was “a critical mess” and Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 23%.

Rather than having ingested some sort of cosmic energy that distanced her from her family and her earthly life, Lucy should have returned with “a greater appreciation for people, nature, and our tiny place in the universe,” according to retired astronaut Marsha Ivins, who made the outer space trip five times. She vehemently denied “the longstanding idea that says astronauts begin to lose their grip on reality after being in space for an extended period of time.”

Lucy, however, caught up in the dreariness of her every-day life, suddenly loses interest in her kind, supportive husband (Dan Stevens), who is sweet, but boring. She also has the burden of responsibility for her feisty dying grandmother (Ellyn Burstyn) and a superbly aware teenage niece (Pearl Amanda Dickson) who follows her around like a detached conscience.

Breaking away from her familiars, Lucy turns in her aloneness to a fellow astronaut (John Hamm) who shares her enthusiasm for their chosen work. But after their brief, torrid affair he moves on to another astronaut who is training for her first flight.

At this point Lucy becomes detached from everything and exists only to exercise and train in preparation for her anticipated next flight. But as she becomes more and more disoriented her erratic behavior becomes a worry to her colleagues and bosses and they try to steer her into places where she might get some emotional and psychological relief. She resists their concern as she continues her lonely slide into oblivion. And her scenes of desperation at the end of the film reminded me of the anguished performance of Julianne Moore as she sank into Alzheimer’s at the end of “Still Alice.”

Despite the fact that the critics panned “Lucy in the Sky” for its plot dysfunctions and the fact that it ran too long, I thought it was beautiful to watch. The endless blackness of space, and Natalie Portman and John Hamm made the film a real treat for the eyes. Or mine, at least.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year, is currently being screened at various Laemmle Theaters around L.A.

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