This article was originally published during 2019’s Toronto International Film Festival. We are republishing the piece as the film hits theaters this weekend.
Lucy in the Sky, directed by Noah Hawley and starring Natalie Portman, is a late premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The Marriage Story folks, exquisite, have probably come and gone; the Hustlers women are doing press in New York with rave reviews already secured; The Goldfinch is Goldfinch-ing. But what of Lucy in the Sky, which has its world premiere here on Wednesday night? All week, TIFF crowds were buzzing: Would Lucy in the Sky deliver? And also, would Natalie Portman wear a diaper?
Boy, do I have news for you. Fetch me my legal action blouse. Let me speak to someone’s manager. I come back to America on Friday, and I will march from JFK straight to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Natalie Portman does not — I repeat, does not — wear a diaper in the astronaut-love-triangle movie Lucy in the Sky, and for that I am filing suit. My attorney (who also doubles as my father) has been notified. I will not take this lying down!
In the first minutes of Lucy in the Sky, the movie reminds you that it’s “based on true events.” Lucy keeps the rough outlines of what really happened in real-life astronaut Lisa Nowak’s life before she confronted her astronaut boyfriend in an Orlando parking lot: Lucy Cola was in the Navy, but always dreamed about going to space. She’s brilliant and focused, and married to a man who also works at NASA, but he’s not an astronaut; she’s having an affair with another NASA employee who is an astronaut. The astronaut/lover starts an affair with another astronaut in their program, and Lucy drives cross-country with a gun, a wig, and a trench coat. Some of the details are a little different on screen — Lucy doesn’t have kids in the movie, her cinematic trip starts in Houston and ends in San Diego (not Florida, as in real life), and Natalie-as-Lucy uses wasp spray instead of pepper spray. But in broad strokes, it’s Nowak’s story.
Lucy in the Sky is the astronaut-love-triangle movie you’ve surely heard about. Natalie Portman stomps around Houston in cowboy boots and with a Texas accent as Lucy Cola, a high-achieving NASA astronaut obsessed with one thing: getting to space. But things get a little twisted for Lucy just after we meet her, when she’s just returned from a mission. Seeing the whole world — her whole world, our whole world — is enough to send anyone into a tailspin. What cinches it is that Lucy starts having an affair with hot astronaut Mark (Jon Hamm, described by one character as “a divorced action figure who likes to go fast”), who suffers the inevitable white-man-with-no-lips disease: he lies to her and cheats on her, and Lucy doesn’t want to let that go.
This movie is imperfect, but Lucy in the Sky tees up the pivotal moment perfectly. Lucy storms around every setting, and late one night she reaches a rupture: She and her teen niece get in her car and drive to the store in the middle of the night. Lucy pushes a shopping cart around the store, barking orders: They need duct tape, rope, a knife. She drops wasp spray into the cart; her eye catches a blonde wig and she drops that in the cart, too. The movie takes Lucy and her existential crisis seriously, but still the moment has an undercurrent of humor. The scene has plenty of laughs, so why couldn’t the diaper be one of the laughs, too? Lucy is so small and everything else — a death in the family, her affair, her marriage, NASA, her ambitions, space — is so big and overwhelming. The scene is a punchline for how comically impossible this all is … what’s she gonna do, drive to San Diego and bully Jon Hamm, who’s there on a trip with his new girlfriend, Zazie Beetz, into taking her back? Well, yes. Of course she is.
But I can’t stress enough how much this moment needs — demands — that diaper. Oh, what could’ve been! Why couldn’t the diaper just have been one more addition to her shopping cart, a winking acknowledgement of her utter seriousness and intensity about her road trip, which she treats as a mission. Lucy makes countdowns, synchronizes watches, says a lot of numbers and does a lot of mental math to calculate her exact arrival. Couldn’t we have thrown a diaper somewhere in there? “Given that it’s not a documentary, part of the work I did was trying to create a character journey that you could really relate to and stay with, even when she went to places you didn’t want her to go,” Noah Hawley told the Los Angeles Times, ostensibly explaining his error. “That detail just didn’t fit into the story.” Lucy in the Sky could imprison Natalie Portman in Claire Foy’s First Man hair, but a diaper didn’t fit into the narrative. With all due respect: what in the hell!
The year 2019 has given us our share of instantly iconic onscreen stunts: Meryl Streep’s Big Little Lies teeth, Timothée Chalamet’s The King bowl cut, Brad Pitt taking off his shirt in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Oh, Natalie Portman’s astronaut diaper, I am mourning your loss even though I never knew you.