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Film reviews: Lucy In The Sky/Honey Boy/Ordinary Love

Star-crossed:  Natalie Portman as Captain Lisa Nowak

THE BIG RELEASE

Lucy In The Sky

(15) ★★✩✩✩

’TIS the season. The film awards season, of course — a time when studios launch heavyweight contenders like Lucy In The Sky. Starring three-time Oscar nominee Natalie Portman (she won for Black Swan) as a female astronaut, on paper it screams ‘Oscar me!’ Sadly, it’s proved a crash and burn stateside.

Where most space dramas focus on the race to get up there (First Man, Hidden Figures), this is all about the come-down. When we first meet Lucy (Portman) she’s floating in orbit, gazing in wonder through her helmet at planet Earth.

‘Just a few more minutes,’ she begs mission control but it’s time to go back home. And though Lucy’s re-entry initially seems smooth, her nice suburban life in Texas with her nice suburban husband (Dan Stevens in a terrible moustache), fearsome grandma (Ellen Burstyn) and underwritten niece (Pearl Amanda Dickson) suddenly seems strange and unreal. All she craves is another hit of space adventure.

As Lucy struggles to fill the void with sexual infidelity (Jon Hamm in Don Draper mode) and career overachieving (competing against her colleague, played by Zazie Beetz), her life spins out of control.

Portman has a great track record of playing women under extreme psychological pressure and this turn is equally Oscar-worthy. The close-ups here remind you of her searing turn portraying Jackie Kennedy. Unfortunately, the film supporting her, over-directed by TV’s Noah Hawley (Fargo), isn’t of the same calibre. When you’ve got an actress this good you don’t need to hit us over the head with butterfly symbolism.

The story is inspired by Captain Lisa Nowak, her name handily changed to Lucy to get that titular Beatles tune in. I suggest you don’t google what happened to her if you want the finale to be a surprise. It’s in this last third that the film, along with Lucy herself, careers off course. Portman ensures this mission is worth the ride, though.

The verdict

Natalie Portman excels as an astronaut in bumpy space biopic

Honey Boy

(15) ★★★★✩

Actor Shia LaBeouf is known for his, ahem, uniquely personal approach to his art — remember him wearing a paper bag over his head that read ‘I AM NOT FAMOUS ANY MORE’? But Honey Boy, originally written as a therapy project, is the 33-year-old’s most mature manifestation to date. And if the troubled Transformers star’s track record of drug- and alcohol-influenced ‘incidents’ seemed erratic, this biopic makes you marvel that he didn’t turn out more damaged.

Told in flashback, a bit like Rocketman without the musical numbers, it boasts magnificent turns from two fine young actors, Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges, playing Shia at different ages, while LaBeouf himself, in a daring high-wire performance, plays his own abusive, addicted father.

The script is compellingly raw, coruscatingly emotional, darkly humorous and edgily tender, no more so than in a scene where a 12-year-old Shia (Jupe) befriends a young prostitute, played by the prodigiously talented FKA Twigs. Is there nothing she can’t do?

Ordinary Love

(12) ★★★★✩

Liam Neeson signed up to this beautifully modulated romantic drama after his old pal Bono sent him the script. He was presumably attracted by the novelty of a movie that didn’t require him to beat up people traffickers while wearing a leather jacket.

He’s Tom, one half of a retired middle-class couple who have been contentedly married for many years. One day his wife Joan (Lesley Manville) finds a lump in her breast. The procedural conveyer belt of biopsies, diagnosis and chemo that follows will be familiar to any patient or their loved ones and that’s the point — this is a story about everyday events that test an enduring marriage.

A slow-burn study in how we humans behave and adapt when cancer crashes in, Ordinary Love runs the risk of being almost too ‘ordinary’. However, watching these two great actors bend their immense talents to playing unremarkable people creates something quietly extraordinary.