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Fly Me to the Moon Review: Space Race Romance

A woman adjusts a man's tie and they both stand in front of a giant moon in the poster for the film Fly Me to the Moon

Set during the space race and with some impressive performances, Fly Me to the Moon aims for the moon, but it cannot reach the stars.

Director: Greg Berlanti
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 132′
Global Wide Release: July 11, 2024
Where to watch: in UK & Irish cinemas and US theaters

“Pilots fight gravity, it’s part of their nature,” we hear one of the characters say in Fly Me to the Moon. The 1960s Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union serves as a backdrop for an unlikely romance between Cole Davis (Channing Tatum, of Bullet Train), the director in charge of the Apollo 11 launch, and Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson, of Asteroid City).

At the beginning of the film, the latter is hired as the marketing specialist and tasked with fixing the public image of NASA, which has suffered a significant decline in public opinion after the tragic events of Apollo 1, on which Cole also served as a director. The relationship between Cole and Kelly does not start in the best way and is not helped by the fact that Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson, of Champions), a government official, makes Kelly film a fake moon landing as a backup in case the real one fails.

Fly Me to the Moon allows the audience to travel back in time to the United States in the 1960s. The setting of the time is delivered well. I particularly appreciated how the plot of the film also takes into consideration the Vietnam War, which is often forgotten and never even mentioned in movies about the Space Race, but is absolutely necessary to deliver a complete picture of what the political situation was like in the United States at the time. The film also does a good job of establishing the stakes of the Space Race with the constant threat of the Soviet Union’s space missions, although they admittedly remain largely unmentioned and unseen.

Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) and Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) in Fly Me to the Moon
Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) and Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) in Fly Me to the Moon (Dan McFadden, Sony Pictures Entertainment)

The performances are the saving grace of a film that otherwise feels quite boring and too long overall. Woody Harrelson, in particular, is a joy to watch on screen: he delivers a unique mix of funny lines and veiled threats that is especially successful. In terms of humour, Jim Rash as Lance Vespertine, the director of the fake moon landing, acts as an excellent comic relief that makes Fly Me to the Moon a lot more enjoyable to sit through, at least during the second half that he appears in. To give the acting credit where credit is due, Ray Romano, who plays Cole’s boss, Henry Small, steals every single scene he is in with a particularly touching and heartwarming performance that stands out in the entirety of the movie.

While the main characters’ individual performances are quite convincing, the lack of chemistry between them is hard to sit through, especially because Fly Me to the Moon is a romance at its core. Inevitably, this does not really prompt the audience to care very much about the future of the couple at all. The pacing also does not help at all, as the film definitely feels a lot longer than it could have been. From the very beginning, the introductions to both Kelly and Cole are unnecessary and too long, adding very little to the film’s overall context and plot.

In terms of writing, Fly Me to the Moon had a really interesting premise that is poorly delivered in the final product. A lot of the narrative relies on the main characters’ respective backstories, but those are constantly delivered with a series of expositionary monologues that only function to tell us the key information about the characters needed to understand the plot, rather than actually showing it to the audience. Therefore, both conflict and backstory end up falling extremely flat. The fact that the film also spends very little time on portraying the technical issues the Apollo 11 allegedly goes through does not help the overall feeling of artificiality of a movie that seems to trust its audience too little to understand the more complicated and scientific parts of the Space Race it portrays.  

Fly Me to the Moon: Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

I liked that the film introduces women characters working at NASA, including one of the protagonists, and that none of the main characters in a space movie are actually astronauts. However, the characterisation in Fly Me to the Moon has its faults. The female characters of significance are only two in comparison to the scientists and personnel at NASA, who are mostly men, and so are the people working at the film set that is introduced halfway through the movie. While it may be true that few women were working at NASA at the time, it is disheartening to see female characters constantly relegated to non-scientific and non-practical roles.

Overall, Fly Me to the Moon is far from being the best movie of the year. However, it is still enjoyable, especially for those in the audience who have a particular interest in the Space Race. While the film tells us very little about the Apollo 11 mission – and certainly less than other space movies of recent years – it is interesting to see another side of the Space Race from the marketing and funding point of view. The significant writing and pacing issues do take a toll on an overall product that is, however, elevated by some particularly commendable performances.  

Fly Me to the Moon will be released in UK & Irish cinemas, in US theaters, and globally on July 11, 2024.

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