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Review: Portman's 'Lucy in the Sky' is an interesting mess

Jon Hamm and Natalie Portman in "Lucy in the Sky"

Hilary B. Gayle, Fox Searchlight Pictures 

Sometimes, real life moves slowly. So it makes sense that a movie based on actual events should also move slowly.

But not this slowly.

Even so, a plodding movie can be redeemed by a big payoff. You leave the theater thinking you have seen something of value. But that will have to be a different film. The climax of “Lucy in the Sky” is not worth even the minimal buildup that leads to it.

The real-life events of “Lucy in the Sky” were in the news 12 years ago, and to be honest, I remembered the incident as being more interesting than it actually was. So what we are stuck with is a film that wants to be meditative and contemplative and turns out to be about almost nothing at all.

Natalie Portman stars as Lucy Cola, who, when we first see her, is on a spacewalk taking in the vastness of the heavens and the glory of the Earth below her.

Review: Portman's 'Lucy in the Sky' is an interesting mess

Natalie Portman in "Lucy in the Sky"

Fox Searchlight Pictures 

She returns home transformed. How can you keep ’em down on the farm once they have seen outer space? She is having an existential moment, and no one understands except her fellow astronauts.

Certainly not her amiably ineffectual husband, played by Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”). The only person who really gets her is a fellow astronaut played by Jon Hamm. Soon they are having what is meant to be a passionate affair.

You know it’s going to be a long movie when even the sex is boring.

Nevertheless, there is still some hope for the film at this point. But then it devolves into even less substance — and what there is familiar, as an increasingly unhinged Natalie Portman heads straight back to “Black Swan” territory.

Portman gives the role her all. Alas, the part of a go-getter wholly devoted to returning to space is not enough to carry an entire movie, particularly one of this length (more than two hours, and it feels longer). Hamm is more watchable, but again familiar as a good-looking, self-centered jerk. Ellen Burstyn’s scenes as Lucy’s aging spitfire grandmother only serve to remind us of the better projects she has been in.

Review: Portman's 'Lucy in the Sky' is an interesting mess

Zazie Beetz (left) and Natalie Portman in "Lucy in the Sky"

Hilary B. Gayle, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director Noah Hawley (“Fargo” on television) tries too hard and only ends up drawing attention to his strenuous efforts. He uses slow motion like it is a new toy, and frequently changes the aspect ratio — the ratio of the frame’s width to its height. Presumably, all of his overhead shots are meant to remind us that Lucy is an astronaut, but the whole film is about that, so we might not need the reminders.

Meanwhile, Hawley stumbles on some of the easier parts of filmmaking. He frequently confuses daytime scenes for night, and his use of the title song in one scene is singularly inappropriate.

The film uses three writers — Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi and Hawley — and it feels as if they could not agree on what the film should be about. It’s contemplative and meditative, sure, but it doesn’t wind up saying anything.

Picture yourself at a film in a theater and trying not to fall asleep.

When ”Lucy in the Sky” • 1½ stars out of four • Run time 2:04 • Rating R • Content Language and some sexual content