Fly Me to the Moon

Director: Greg Berlanti

Writers: Rose Gilroy (screenplay), Keenan Flynn, Bill Kirstein (story)

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Woody Harrelson, Jim Rash

Producers: Scarlett Johansson, Keenan Flynn, Jonathan Lia, Sarah Schechter

Music: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski

Editor: Harry Jierjian

Cert: 12

Running time: 132mins

Year: 2024

What’s the story: Florida, 1969. To the chagrin of Apollo 11 launch director Cole Davis (Tatum), shoot-from-the-hip marketing specialist Kelly Jones (Johansson) has been brought in to re-ignite public interest in the costly Moon landing program. Unbeknownst to Cole, shadowy G-man Moe Berkus (Harrelson) has also ordered Kelly to stage a fake Moon landing that will be broadcast to the world in place of the real thing.

What’s the verdict: There is something charmingly old-school Hollywood about Fly Me to the Moon, and it’s not just the period setting. Tatum and Johansson’s sparky sparring recalls the sixties silliness of Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies. The general tone is light, breezy, and Saturday night date friendly (with obligatory tragic backstories for both leads to lend their romantic dalliance some weight).

Crucially, the monumental endeavour of putting someone on the Moon (three people, in fact) is front and centre, the excitement and brilliance of that achievement captured in several spirit-stirring sequences. Arguably in a more effective way than Damien Chazelle’s po-faced First Man managed.

But, how predictable is it that this inspired-by-true-events story will play fast and loose with the facts?  Predictably, it is as predictable as the Moon orbiting the Earth. “Project Artemis,” the government plot to fake the Moon landing to convince the world (particularly the Soviets) America had reached the Moon regardless of the actual mission, is pure fantasy. Project Artemis does exist, working to put a woman and a person of colour on the Moon. Before this decade is out, we’ll be reviewing that movie too.  

But fear not those worrying star/producer Johansson has gone conspiracy doolally. No endorsement of Moon hoax theories is to be had here. In its gentle way, Fly Me to the Moon is a rallying cry for people to celebrate the reality of national and global co-operation, rather than indulge in crackpot yarns.

Johansson and Tatum (who both appeared in the Coens’ Hail, Caesar!, but didn’t share the screen) are perfect as a clean-cut Dudley Do-Right and his quick-witted thorn in the side. Amongst the best scenes are when both characters use their opposing talents to win funding from state senators more worried about re-election than touching the heavens. And when the film delivers obligatory mushy moments, the leads deploy their resting beautiful face to distract from the rote romance. Sure, a couple of re-writes would have helped, but it’s churlish to ask for the Moon when we have these stars.

A supporting cast ensure audience lols at least once every ten minutes. Harrelson delivers charming/menacing schtick he can produce by the yard. Ray Romano serves up his harried, but loveable screen persona as Cole’s deputy. Playing to the gallery is Jim Rash, forever Community’s Dean Pelton, as a megalomaniacal ad-director brought in by Kelly to shoot the fake Moon stuff. Bemoaning his Neil Armstrong surrogate (“a whiny little bitch, I think we should recast”) gives Johansson one of the film’s sharper lines, “I think we should’ve gotten Kubrick.”

Some side trivia here: an attempt to recruit Stanley Kubrick to film a fake-Moon landing in case the real mission failed was the basis of the 2015 movie Moonwalkers. Ron Perlman plays the Woody Harrelson part, and Rupert Grint is kind of a Scarlett Johansson analog. It’s not a bad movie, but not as first-date friendly as this one.

Fly Me to the Moon won’t go interstellar. But should put smiles on the audience’s faces as they re-enter the atmosphere of real-life while the credits roll.

Rob Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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