Fox Searchlight sells a story of how reentry is the hardest part of both space missions and everyday life.
For the second time in a month Hollywood is telling the story of an astronaut. This time around the movie is Lucy in the Sky, starring Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, an astronaut who returns to Earth after an extended mission in space to find her connections to the world are more tenuous and less satisfying than the thrill of being out among the stars.
Loosely based on the real life of astronaut Lisa Nowak, the story follows Cola as she fights to reintegrate into her life and family after she’s back on the ground, her perspective on things changed by her time out in the black. When an affair with another astronaut (Jon Hamm) turns south, Cola’s behavior becomes even more erratic and dangerous.
Early reviews haven’t been positive – it sports a poor 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – but the campaign from Fox Searchlight sells an original twist on the idea of how dramatic events change your outlook on life and grip on reality.
Lucy stands looking at the moon on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), the image meant to emphasize the scale of the universe while also communicating her longing to return to space. The movie’s appearance at the Toronto Film Festival is touted at the top. Note also how her name is slightly elevated in the title treatment, a nice visual representation of how she’s floating above things, not quite grounded in the way the rest of us are.
The first teaser from mid-March opens with Lucy losing her focus while out on a spacewalk. Her return to Earth shows she’s having problems adjusting to life back on the ground having been changed by her experiences seeing so much of the universe. She’s feeling “a little off” and has been hallucinating as well as behaving in ways that may be harmful to herself or others. Those around her want to help and understand, but just can’t see what’s happening to her.
It was August before the second trailer was released. This one shows even more clearly the problems Lucy is having in restarting her life on Earth after having walked in space. She can’t connect with family or friends and starts seeing others as threats to her success and notoriety. She also frantically begins an affair with fellow astronaut Goodwin, who’s just one of those around her that starts to feel Lucy is increasingly untethered from reality and might even be dangerous.
Online and Social
Fox Searchlight’s website for the film is good, if a bit understocked. The “Cast” section offers brief video clips of the character played by each named actor with “About” containing a story synopsis and “Videos” housing both trailers.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Two short clips were released in late September/early October. One had Lucy and Goodwin talking about what she’s accomplished in her life while the second had her commiserating with other astronauts about what they’ve all gone through on their missions.
If there was other advertising done it wasn’t extensive enough to cross my radar. It’s likely some video ads were produced that ran online and maybe even on TV and that other online ads used visuals from the film, but I haven’t encountered them.
Media and Publicity
The first still from the film showed Portman in full NASA uniform, but not much else.
In early 2019 the movie’s title was changed from Pale Blue Dot to its current name.
An interview with Hawley in September allowed him to talk about the story and how he worked to stay as accurate as possible to reality, though there were some changes made and omissions decided upon. Portman and Hamm later discussed the research they did and the chemistry they developed on screen.
At the movie’s premiere, Portman talked about the difficult process of donning a spacesuit for the film while Hamm commented on the unique nature of the story. Another interview with Portman had her sharing details on what was or wasn’t included in the movie’s story and how that plays into gender politics in this day and age.
Both stars made the late night and morning talk show rounds to talk about the movie and their experiences shooting it. So did costar Zazie Beetz, who plays one of Cola’s fellow astronauts, one she sees as a rival both personally and professionally.
One of the constant themes in the press coverage of the movie was an anecdote about the real life woman whose life is being shared here involving wearing astronaut “diapers” on her cross-country trek to confront the man she’d been having an affair with. That detail is apparently not included in the film and Portman was repeatedly asked why it was omitted.
The obsession (there’s no other real word to use) with this aspect of the story is a great indicator of how many members of the press search for the lowest, most salacious detail to pull out, one that will generate the most clicks because it contains the word “diaper.” It says more about the state of the industry than it does with the filmmaking choices made by director Noah Hawley or any of the writers.
That it has dominated the press cycle is unfortunate, because there’s a good movie being sold in the rest of the campaign and my fear is it’s tainted how the film is being received. The marketing as a whole is selling a movie about how hard it is to reenter the real world after being so far removed from it for so long. That idea has been explored before, but mostly with soldiers returning from war zones as the protagonist. To put a woman who has glimpsed something extraordinary and who then has problems adjusting to everyday minutiae and routines is an intriguing twist on that, one that is worth exploring more deeply.