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MOVIE REVIEW: The Funny Thing About Truth and Lies: A Review of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

It’s a completely fictional story that uses historical facts as a basis for some of its plot points, but it is really out there to just give us a good time, and it does that.

Set in the late 1960s with the focus on America’s rush to put American astronauts on the moon to beat the Russians during the “space race,” ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ is a mainstream comedy starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum and directed by Greg Berlanti. While the film intends to be an inspiring tale about the interconnectedness of marketing and branding with scientific progress (which may not always align ideologically) and the gung-ho attitude of Americans in how they were able to inspire the world to reach for the stars, the film may also unintentionally become an interesting examination of America’s dangerous marriage to capitalism and its own sordid image of itself. If it was intentional, then bravo to the director and Rose Gilroy, the screenwriter, because ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ navigates the advantages and disadvantages of lies, misdirection, and the truth.

Tatum plays Cole Davis, a former astronaut who is head of the NASA program in-charge of sending astronauts into space. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy who deeply loves his job and the people who work under him. But under then-President Nixon and the growing cost of the Vietnam war, NASA is trying to survive with a diminished budget and with a deadline that is looming perilously closer every day. Enter Kelly Jones, played by Scarlett Johansson, recruited by the mysterious Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson) to use her expertise in marketing and PR to rebrand the NASA program and get people excited again for the space program.

Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) in FLY ME TO THE MOON.

The film manages its politics quite well. Jones is depicted as a woman who will always go where the money is but her assistant, played by Anna Garcia, is a progressive feminist who cautions against it, articulating the film’s politics that Nixon was bad, the Vietnam war was bad and that the methods employed by Jones throughout the film are also extremely objectionable.

Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) in FLY ME TO THE MOON.

But as Jones’ methods for building the Apollo mission and NASA brand succeeds – even if she uses actors to play the engineers because they don’t do interviews, or commodifying every aspect of the space mission making statements that are not true – it really puts a question on whether little embellishments and lies are what it really takes to make people care about anything. 

Lance (Jim Rash) and Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) in FLY ME TO THE MOON.

The film makes fun of this. We are expected to laugh when Johansson, as Kelly Jones, convinces Tatum’s Cole Davis that the cereal marketing and branding helps even if the astronauts don’t really eat the products in real life; and we do laugh because Johansson is putting out all the charm and it works in this medium and Tatum serves as a wonderful counterpoint to her amoral marketing wiz. We laugh because we have heard and even know about “the truth in advertising” and to see it play out in this comedy where the results are beneficial to the main characters, especially the morally upright Cole Davis, that we forgive them and ride along.

Ruby Martin (Anna Garcia), Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) in FLY ME TO THE MOON.

In-between the hijinks and the gags, there’s a love story blooming between Kelly and Cole but there’s also a big secret that Kelly is trying to hide and, through this job, hopefully erase; and when the lies get too big to handle, the film leads us towards the filming of a fake lunar landing (which involves the always-funny Jim Rash as the director of this production)  to ensure that the Americans will win the space race, whether they really did or not.  

Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson) and Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) in FLY ME TO THE MOON.

While the film harkens about the power and importance of the truth, of how the truth gives value to any concept or abstract idea, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ ends up highlighting the way America has always tried to portray itself to the world, where it’s image of being “the greatest nation of the world” is built upon so many wrongs. In this film, it’s the Vietnam War. 

Interestingly enough, when the film positions Moe Berkus as the antagonist, the best way to beat him is through deception. The film, while advocating for the power and importance of truth, cannot help but leverage the power of lies in solving so many problems and issues. Despite its moral shortcomings, though, the movie means well and it’s funny and well-paced and its cast does a marvelous job of selling us the fantasy. It’s a completely fictional story that uses historical facts as a basis for some of its plot points, but it is really out there to just give us a good time, and it does that. The music is strong, Johansson and Tatum are wonderful together and it sort of shows us the importance of being able to sell an idea. No great advancement can be done without money and the games behind the scenes are given special attention by the plot points of the film. If anything, the film further proves that STEM is nothing without the humanities and the liberal arts to give it any real value.

My Rating:

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Fly Me to the Moon
Comedy, Romance
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