Remember Lisa Marie Nowak, the astronaut who in 2007 drove from Texas to Florida, reportedly wearing diapers to save time on her way to kidnap and murder her romantic rival, US Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman?
Nowak was an astronaut on the Space Shuttle Discovery during its July 2006 mission. The object of the affections of both women was William Oefelein, who would later admit to a two-year affair with the then-married Nowak, who had three children. The Nowaks divorced while Oefelein married Shipman in 2010.
In “Lucy in the Sky,” very loosely based on the famous astronaut love triangle, writers Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi and Noah Hawley, who also directs, change the names of characters involved in the real-life scandal and concoct a bewildering tale of infidelity, with Hawley’s direction doing little to portray Nowak, with Natalie Portman playing spurned lover Lucy, as sympathetic.
The movie begins with Portman literally swallowed up by her giant spacewalk suit, floating while tethered to the space shuttle. Back in the vessel, Portman’s Lucy seems moody and a little spaced out while the rest of her crewmates are engaged with one another and their mission. Lucy returns to Earth after this transcendent experience and begins to lose touch with reality in a world that now seems too small. She works hard to ace all her post-journey tests so she can get back into space in three years.
Her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) is a NASA PR person who smiles too much and too brightly, which is supposed to help us understand why Lucy falls out of love with him and goes for fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm). Soon enough, Goodwin finds Lucy is the one who is not good enough and goes for another woman who is not encumbered with a spouse.
None of this really works and people in the know about NASA will wonder why San Diego was substituted for Orlando. In fact, Portman doesn’t don a diaper throughout the film. But these are really minor quibbles compared to the overall negative representation of female astronauts.
While the movie was still under development, Marsha Ivins, an astronaut who flew five space shuttle missions, wrote an article for Time magazine in March 2017 titled “What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Female Astronauts.”
Ivins responded to the “longstanding idea that says astronauts begin to lose their grip on reality after being in space for an extended period of time” and the suggestions that women returning from spaceflight are “supposed to be different in some way from men returning from similar” experiences.
Ivins ended her piece writing, “All I can conclude is that perhaps an astronaut who loses his or her grip on reality after spending time in space wasn’t holding on too tightly to begin with.”
As A. A. Dowd of AV Club wrote recently, “Movies ripped from the headlines often play fast and loose with the real-life events they’re reenacting. But it’s rare to encounter one whose dramatic liberties actually result in a story less sensational, and less interesting, than the one presented by said headlines. That’s the perplexing case with ‘Lucy In The Sky,’” Dowd wrote.
The fact that the writers did not even use diapers in the story indicates that the goal was “to shine a sympathetic new light on a public figure who the culture treated like a punch line. It’s why the diaper stuff had to go: Seeing her slip one of those on might risk more live-studio-audience laughter, when ‘Lucy In The Sky’ wants us to see her not as a joke but as a victim of impossible pressure, stifling domesticity, and institutional sexism,” Dowd wrote.
“Lucy in the Sky” opens nationwide Friday.