Then Playing — Lucy in the Sky; Married Before Breakfast; Bill & Ted Face the Music

Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley, 2019). I think Noah Hawley has presided over some dandy television in recent years, and it makes sense that he’d bring his squirrely urges for narrative and format tinkering to his feature directorial debut. The problem is that he doesn’t bring much else. Lucy in the Sky is loosely inspired by the salacious story of an astronaut who cracked when the philander she was involved with started philandering with another woman. Natalie Portman places the increasingly distressed NASA employee, infusing real personality into the performance, at least before the crescendo notes of unhinged jealousy make the whole endeavor feel like a overheated redo of her already-singed-at-the-edges turn in Black Swan (which, to be fair, did win her an Oscar). Hawley, who also collaborated on the screenplay, can’t settle down enough to find the humanity in the film, preferring to indulge in haphazardly shifting aspect ratios and other visual tomfoolery. Presumably meant to evoke the lead character’s discombobulation, all the fussy technique instead grows wearying. Lucy in the Sky quickly becomes an unwelcome chore.

Married Before Breakfast (Edwin L. Marin, 1937). This snappy comedy stars Robert Young as inventor Tom Wakefield, a tireless optimist whose side effect–laden hair-removal cream is just promising enough to inspire a razor blade company to shell out a hefty sum of money to bury it. Finally flush with the fortune he’s long craved, Tom goes on a gifting spree. His generosity extends to helping Kitty Brent (Florence Rice), an agent who helped him book a planned honeymoon trip on a steamship, in a quest to help her fiancé (Hugh Marlowe) secure a life insurance sale that will give them enough dough to finally walk down the aisle. In a manner familiar to anyone who’s watched a romantic comedy made in the decades after Married Before Breakfast, Tom and Kitty fall for each other over the course of a madcap urban adventure, casting aside their obviously incompatible partners in the process. Edward L. Marin directs the film with an aptly unfussy commitment to emotional directness and storytelling clarity. Given Hollywood’s propensity for pilfering its own past, it’s a wonder this film has yet to be repurposed into a modern vehicle for the romcom heroes of the moment.

Bill & Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot, 2020). I’m actively skeptical there was any need for a thirty-years-in-the-making sequel in a film series that was notably dopey and disposable, even at its most enjoyable. Bill & Ted Face the Music does nothing much to dissuade my doubts. Catching up with the excellent friends Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) and William S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) several decades past their youthful escapades, the film sets the now middle-aged dudes on a time-hopping journey to craft a song — or rather retrieve a song they hope they crafted in the future, because why not — destined to prevent reality from ripping apart. Both Reeves and Winter are game returning to the roles, but the only part of the film that’s engaging is the side quest undertaken by the characters’ daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine). There’s some charm and inventiveness to their assembly of musicians drawn from different eras across history into a universe-saving band. Lundy-Paine is especially good at borrowing the Valley boy cadence of Reeves’s original performance (of most of his performances from that era, really) and putting their own unique spin of winning personality on it. Director Dean Parisot handles the always precarious mix of comedy and fantastical sci-fi elements capably enough but without the remarkable deftness he’s shown for such a hybrid at least once in the past.

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