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'Fly Me to the Moon' Review

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July 10, 2024
By:
Hunter Friesen
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The spirit of Rob Reiner lives gloriously within Fly Me to the Moon, a winning combination of heart and humor aimed squarely at adults. Of course, Reiner is still alive and kicking out films pretty regularly, but the quality has dipped so dramatically that you’d be hard-pressed to know they even exist. I might be the only person in the world who holds the distinction of seeing LBJ and Shock and Awe in a theater, both times having the room all to myself. Director Greg Berlanti and screenwriter Rose Gilroy are here to pick up the slack, emulating the kind of energy Reiner and Aaron Sorkin produced so delightfully in The American President.


The only unconvincing thing about Scarlett Johansson’s performance is her wig, which often carries the same spoofy look as Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady. But selling stuff that’s unconvincing is her job, with the first time we meet her character Kelly is at a Mad Men-esque advertising meeting where she sports a fake baby bump and correctly “guesses” (she bribed their secretaries) which cars each of the men drive. This is Johansson firmly in true movie star mode, her first time doing so away from the character of Black Widow in over a decade. It’s a lot of fun to see her be the brightest and most confident person in the room, often finishing the sentences of Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) as he races to keep up with her.



Despite working for America’s preeminent government agency, Cole finds himself in the same position as any director of a nonprofit: underfunded, understaffed, and facing the pressure of the political machine. Public interest in space exploration has crashed back down to Earth after several failed attempts, the most notable being the death of three astronauts from Apollo 1. It also doesn’t help that Vietnam is still raging on and social upheaval is commanding the streets. Here to put a positive spin on everything is Kelly, which includes ad tie-ins and “punched up” biographies for all those involved. That thin line between lying and selling is what bothers Cole, who has made it his life's work to pull off the hardest task in the history of mankind with both the honor and integrity he believes America has.


Things really come to a head when the government deems the Apollo 11 moon landing mission to be too big to fail, which means a contingency plan has to be put in place in the form of a fake recording. Berlanti and Gilroy have fun with the conspiracy-laden idea of the moon landing being faked, including a few jokes about Stanley Kubrick, who’s referred to as an overblown wunderkind who’s only made one good movie. Jim Rash gets more than a few moments to shine as a brash commercial director who’s more than happy to put in the powerful position of faking one of America’a finest moments.


Berlanti and Gilroy don’t put too much stock into the ideological tension between Kelly and Cole. There are debates here and there about how Cole is doing this for idealism and Kelly is mucking it up by treating this like the Thanksgiving Day parade, all while those marketing dollars keep the lights on. What’s more important is the chemistry that Johansson and Tatum have at all times, which is never less than effortlessly charming. The translation into this time period might have been aided by the pair’s appearance in the Coen’s Hollywood Golden Age comedy Hail, Caesar! a few years back, although I’m pretty sure they didn’t share any substantial scenes.



The horrendous poster and limited marketing would give you the impression that this is some straight-to-streaming cash grab, but real money has been spent on this production. There’s a ‘60s Jetsons sheen to everything, including a giddy Oliver Stone-inspired opening montage about America’s history with space up to this moment. The sets and costumes are light and airy, and so is Daniel Pemberton’s score. Cinematographer Darius Wolski, often seen helming Ridley Scott films, even gets to mimic the famous vacuum of space shot from First Man, only this time more comedically.


Fly Me to the Moon is about people and a process, both of which serve as the main attractions. If there was a “They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To” category at the Academy Awards, this would be a strong contender to win. Now I hope people show up so we can start making more of these again.

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