Natalie Portman can't overcome failed mission control in so-so astronaut drama

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Going up in space is easy; coming down is the hard part.

That's the takeaway from "Lucy in the Sky," the rickety, inspired-by-real-events drama about astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman), who has a difficult time readjusting to life back home after a trip to the stars.  

Director Noah Hawley's (TV's "Legion" and "Fargo") tale goes just as sideways as the story of its heroine, but if a movie is going to veer this far off-course, you at least want to have a pilot as in control as Portman.

Portman is fully committed to her role, wearing an outsize Texas accent just as big as a cowboy hat and a fierce determination that never wavers. After returning from space she can't quite reconcile life on the ground, and climbs up on her roof early in the morning to watch the sun rise.     

She allows her marriage to fall apart when she starts chasing fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), a NASA stud who's described as "a divorced action figure who likes to go fast." When Mark starts shacking up with trainee Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz), Lucy's grip on reality becomes even more tenuous, and she embarks on a desperate road trip to either confront Mark or win him back; even she's not entirely sure.

The reason you remember this story from the news is because of a key detail, a diaper, that is left out of this version of the tale. It's too bad: when "Lucy" begins to spiral out of control, it would be better off embracing its crazy rather than feebly trying to course-correct. 

Hawley continually plays with the film's aspect ratio, switching from super-wide shots to square frames and back, in an attempt to convey Lucy's shifting mental state. It's a nifty trick but, like too much of "Lucy in the Sky," it doesn't connect down here on Earth and is caught somewhere in the cosmos.

'Lucy in the Sky'

GRADE: C

Rated R:  for language and some sexual content

Running time: 124 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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