Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Written by: Rose Gilroy, Bill Kirstein, Keenan Flynn
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Woody Harrelson, Jim Rash, Anna Garcia, Ray Romano
Released: July 11, 2024
Grade: C+

Fly Me to the Moon

Hollywood has made some wonderful movies showcasing the bravery of astronauts and the technical nous of those working behind the scenes at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  First Man centred on Neil Armstrong, Hidden Figures spotlighted female African American mathematicians, and the award-winning Apollo 13 chronicled one of the great rescue missions of all time.

Unfortunately, Fly Me to the Moon can’t match any of the aforementioned films when it comes to credibility and excitement.  History books look back fondly on Americans stepping foot on the moon in July 1969, but it was a chequered lead up in terms of government and public support.   With several competing priorities (poverty, civil rights, Vietnam War), many soured on the enormous taxpayer funded price tag of the Apollo moon landing program.

In the case of Fly Me to the Moon, that’s about where the truth stops, and the fiction begins.  The main narrative revolves around three key individuals.  Moe Berkus (Harrelson) is a secretive figure working for President Richard Nixon who wants to spruik interest in the space program.  Kelly Jones (Johansson) is a colourful, chatty marketing guru employed by Moe to generate positive buzz for NASA.  Cole Davis (Tatum) is the Launch Director for the upcoming Apollo 11 mission and is focused solely on getting the job done.

None of these people existed in real life.  I understand when a group of characters are merged into one to help a movie’s runtime (as they did with Jonah Hill’s statistician role in Moneyball) but why be so flippant with facts here?  Actor Ed Harris iconised Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 (earning an Oscar nomination for his efforts) and so it’s weird to see Channing Tatum play a shallower, goofier version of the same person but with a different name.  Tatum is anything but convincing.

The film may have worked better if it went the fully comedic route (playing for laughs as opposed to accuracy) but there’s a raft of tonal changes which don’t suit.  Given the silliness of these fake characters and some of their actions, it’s hard to take them seriously when the film rushes through dramatic plot elements like Cole’s internal turmoil over three astronauts who perished in the first Apollo mission.

One positive is the broader performance of Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) who infuses her character with feminine power and non-stop energy.  When you throw in the editing, time period and striking costumes, it reminded me a little of what Renee Zellweger achieved in the 2003 cult classic Down with Love.  Despite her best efforts, I wasn’t as sold on the small romantic subplot between her and Tatum (I’ll blame the writers there).

Likely to generate chatter amongst conspiracy theorists (you’ll know why once you’ve seen the movie), Fly Me to the Moon wants to be light and fun but, unlike the Apollo 11 astronauts themselves, struggles to achieve its mission.