Yes, the title is a play on the Beatles song. As fans of the Fab Four know, the title is a veiled reference to LSD. And while this new movie called “Lucy In the Sky” drifts into a drug-like madness, it doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

Natalie Portman stars in this semi-true story about an astronaut who returns to earth after an extended space flight and has trouble readjusting. After the vastness of space, earth seems so very small.

Astronaut Lucy Cola (Portman) is wrestling with her new world view, something her husband (Dan Stevens) doesn’t understand. So she starts an affair with a fellow astronaut (Jon Hamm) who seems to empathize with her dilemma. She wants to go back into space, but her connection with reality is beginning to unravel.

PTSD? A transcendental experience? Incipient madness? Take your pick.

“Lucy In the Sky” is twinkling on the screens, but it’s a diamond in the rough.

The story is loosely based on NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak’s criminal activities connected to her affair with fellow astronaut William Oefelein. She was arrested in 2007 for attempting to kidnap U.S. Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, her romantic rival.

The premise of the movie “that says astronauts begin to lose their grip on reality after being in space for an extended period of time” has been criticized as false by former NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins.

Ivins might be considered an expert. She flew aboard five shuttle missions for a combined 55 days in space.

“Hollywood may consider spaceflight traumatic … but astronauts do not,” says Ivins. “We understand the danger involved in human spaceflight, and we accept the risk because we feel the reward of human space exploration is worth taking that risk. ... This can occasionally lead to a sort of depression when it all comes to an end and you’re back on earth, but not the kind of downward personal spiral intimated by the movie’s synopsis.”

Natalie Portman is a great actress. And John Hamm and Dan Stevens are no slouches. Even the cast additions of Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn, and Nick Offerman are impressive. But they can’t compensate for the film’s weak spots.

Director-writer Noah Hawley throws in the kitchen sink (letterboxing to widescreen, fisheye lens, background sound) in an attempt to connect with the audience, but in the end this psychotic science-fiction psychedelia comes up as empty as space.

Shirrel Rhoades is a film critic and former media executive. He previously served as executive vice president of Marvel Entertainment and has produced several movies and documentaries. He was also a senior faculty member of New York University’s Center for Publishing. He lives in Key West, Florida, and Lake Lure, North Carolina. Contact him at

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