Fly Me to the Moon review: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum rom-com sparkles, even if it falls just short of the stars

Story of love during the Space Race is ultimately funny and charming.

Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in Fly Me to the Moon
(Image: © Dan McFadden/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

What to Watch Verdict

Movie fans should enjoy this hilarious and star-powered return to an old-fashioned rom-com, even if it's a little long.


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    Scarlett Johansson is in top form

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    Strong script from Rose Gilroy is hilarious

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    A memorable roster of supporting characters


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    Channing Tatum is a little flat

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    Misses out on some of the majesty of going to the moon

There have been countless articles about how the romantic comedy is a dying genre at the movies, with rom-coms relegated to streaming only. If that is something you want to see remedied, then the best way to do so is to support new entries that do make the leap to the big screen. The good news is that the latest chance to do so, Fly Me to the Moon, will reward you with a charming, hilarious and star-studded trip to the theater. 

Starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, Fly Me to the Moon is set during the Space Race of the 1960s and the build up to the launch of Apollo 11. NASA has a public image problem as Americans are questioning whether the investment to go to the moon is worth it, so the government brings in PR maven Kelly Jones (Johansson), whose job is to get people excited about the Apollo missions again. However, her strategies run against the seriousness and challenges of the mission that launch director Cole Davis (Tatum) knows all too well. Of course, as the two butt heads over this, an undeniable connection begins to form.

Things become even more complicated though when Kelly is given a new assignment. With interest in the moon landing now at an all time high, the White House, embodied by a mysterious man named Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), has deemed the mission too big to fail. As a result, Kelly is told to stage a fake moon landing to have as a backup in case the real mission doesn't go as planned.

Johansson dominates the movie from the moment she appears on screen with her performance, imbuing Kelly with an easy confidence and swagger that instantly gets audiences to fall for her. The other half of our romantic couple, Tatum is serviceable but his performance is a little flat and awkward. Yes, he is playing a bit of a gruff more comfortable with logistics than people, but he doesn't quite reach the level that Johansson is at in making the relationship work (though overall it still does).

Scarlett Johansson in Fly Me to the Moon

Scarlett Johansson in Fly Me to the Moon (Image credit: Apple)

There are a number of standout supporting performances as well. Harrelson is fun as the man behind the curtain, Jim Rash is fantastically ludicrous as a demanding director, while Anna Garcia, Noah Robbins and Donald Elise Watkins are great as sidekicks to Johansson and Tatum. Ray Romano also has a few moments, but he's definitely under utilized. Then there is a fun cameo that will definitely tickle viewers when it happens.

While it's the actors delivering the lines, credit must also be given to the script written by Rose Gilroy (from a story by Keenan Flynn and Bill Kirstein). Snappy dialogue keeps things lively, but there's also enough backstory to each of these characters that gives a nice depth to the story. With this being her first official screenplay credit, it is a stellar debut for Gilroy.

That depth is reserved for the characters, however, as the movie does feel slight in its depiction of the historical Space Race. As a rom-com, it makes sense that the movie doesn't get into the tension and geopolitical concerns in beating Russia to the moon (instead it opts for more of a comedic tilt to that idea), but it is a shame director Greg Berlanti fails to capture the true majesty of the Apollo missions. The feats of sending people to the moon never feel fully appreciated by the characters. That extra layer isn't critical to the movie's success, but it does keep it more earthbound.

It also impacts the movie's runtime. At two hours and 12 minutes, this is a long romantic comedy with two distinct halves — Kelly building up NASA's image ahead of the Apollo 11 launch and then working on a staged moon landing. With its jokes and strong star performances, you won't be bored during it, but a larger, more impactful message would have helped justify the runtime a bit more.

But if you've been missing the old-school romantic comedies — ones highlighted by star performances, sharp dialogue and clever conceits — then Fly Me to the Moon will certainly scratch that itch.

Fly Me to the Moon releases exclusively in movie theaters worldwide on July 12.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.