Film Review: Fly Me To The Moon; Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum’s chemistry soars in delightfully old-fashioned comedy

The authenticity of the moon landing has always been something that’s long plagued history.  And whilst a straightforward narrative around the Apollo 11 project would undoubtedly be intriguing, it’s an entirely safer bet to allude to such a longstanding conspiracy with a surrounding story, rather than court controversy with anything direct.

And it’s with such a mentality we have Fly Me To The Moon, a supremely delightful and old-fashioned comedy that brings to mind the screwball genre pieces of Doris Day and Rock Hudson in their prime.  Aesthetically pleasing and much smarter than audiences may be expecting from the trailers, Greg Berlanti‘s throwback crowd pleaser works primarily off the dedication of its ensemble cast, with a wily Scarlett Johansson and an amusingly straight-laced Channing Tatum leading the charge.

For a mission so built on man-power, there’s an irony present in Rose Gilroy‘s script that it’s ultimately the quick wit and sharp thinking of a woman that truly ignites Apollo 11’s success; you’re not flying to the moon without some serious injection from the PR department.  Air Force pilot-turned-NASA captain Cole Davis (Tatum) may be the brainy rocket scientist that is needed to launch the mission, but it’s Johansson’s Kelly Jones that’s going to sell such a dream – “The truth is still the truth, even if nobody believes it,” she relays. “And a lie is still a lie, even if everybody believes it.” – and because Americans need to buy such, even the government is on board in all aspects to assure success.

One of those aspects of success being to film a replication of the moon landing.  Such lack of faith and deception could come off as cynical – Cole is certainly not happy with his career being made a mockery of –  but Berlanti has pure entertainment escapism as his personal setting, leaning more into the 1960s mind-frame of the American consumer and their TV watching habits.  Audiences willingly accepted what they saw on their home television sets, and the government aware of Cole’s past failures (he still carries the deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts on his conscience) are making sure such a dream is attained for all to see; Woody Harrelson‘s shady agent Moe Berkus, a specialist in instigating conspiracies, overseeing Kelly’s personal project.

Whilst there is a romance bubbling across the film’s 132 minutes between Kelly and Cole (it’s not so much a “Will they or won’t they?” as a “When will they?”), Fly Me To The Moon is more concerned with the shenanigans that come from staging the landing in the secret environment Moe and Kelly have devised, which extends to casting televisually presentable versions of Cole (though that’s more to do with his aversion to the idea than anything visually against Tatum) and lead engineer Henry Smalls (Ray Romano). Helping oversee this is high-maintenance director Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash, hilarious) – stepping in to do what Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t, apparently – whose fiddly ways and diva-ish behaviour give a lot of the film its levity.

Though the film has something of a basis of reality to it, it very much exists in its own exaggerated orbit.  The deception Kelly pulls on Cole would likely not earn any further points in their romance, and because the landing went off without a hitch there isn’t necessarily a lot of weight to the staging, but such is the power of Johansson and Tatum’s playful chemistry that it keeps us invested beyond the expected.  Despite the film’s original streaming fate – this was already to go for the Apple TV+ platform, before executives saw the value in a big screen union between such stars it has at its disposal – Fly Me To The Moon soars as the cinematic destination it deserves to be viewed as.


Fly Me To The Moon is screening in Australian theatres from July 11th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.