On paper, French director Rebecca Zlotowski’s new movie Planetarium seems like it has the potential to be a fascinating movie. She casts Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as American sisters who travel around Europe in the 1930s performing séances that may be a sham. The sisters find a benefactor of sorts in a film director who wants to turn their séances into movies and hopefully catch evidence of the paranormal on camera.
But Planetarium is a waste of what could have been an interesting story about the spiritualism craze and subsequent fraud of the early 20th century. Zlotowski clearly wants to keep viewers guessing about whether or not her lead characters can actually communicate with the dead (Depp is the gifted teen, Portman is the cunning businesswoman) but she also seems completely disinterested in making a movie that’s actually about their work as mediums. Shortly after beginning, Planetarium dissolves into a romance (if you can even call it that—it’s never explained) between Portman’s character Laura Barlow and the director who turns her into a movie star (Emmanuel Salinger.) And it’s very, very boring.
In a time when tarot cards and witchcraft seem trendier than ever, it’s hard to believe a movie like Planetarium could get it so wrong. Portman might give a great performance as the scheming Laura Barlow, and the movie is certainly pretty to look at, but the film’s flaky pacing makes it nearly impossible to follow. And the worst part about it is that while the movie keeps selling you on the magic and intensity of séances, it never lets you actually see one all the way through. So for now I’ll wish for an Oscar-bait biopic on the Fox sisters, preferably one that assumes you care about the rich history of this weird profession.