Vox Lux Reviews
What a steaming piece of garbage. I almost want to leave it at that, but I consider it good therapy to work out what the hell I just saw. All I know is that it's truly terrible. Brady Corbet, an actor whose performances in MYSTERIOUS SKIN and FUNNY GAMES I've admired greatly, wrote and directed this mess, its overall intentions perhaps well-meaning but muddier than the water underneath the Santa Monica Pier.
Even my attempt at a synopsis sounds batshit crazy. A young girl names Celeste experiences severe trauma which leads to her worldwide success as a terrible, whiny, narcissistic music sensation. Is it a commentary on terrorism or is it merely the second film this year (with A STAR IS BORN being first) to attack Lad Gaga's brand of dance pop? I suppose it's both, clearly biting off more than it can chew, but even though Portman doesn't appear until about halfway through the film, she's horribly miscast and unbearable from the word go. I've loved many of her performances over the years, but her Long Island honk, coupled with her shouty, snotty line delivery here had me wincing throughout.
Things start out promisingly enough, although humorlessly in an Atom Egoyan circa THE SWEET HEREAFTER sorta way, when young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) finds herself dead center in a Columbine-style school shooting. The guilt she feels in the aftermath fuels the rest of the film. Had the character not become a famous star, but had simply stuck with her as a teen, I might have enjoyed this more. It plays like a quieter, simpler version of Gus Van Sant's ELEPHANT, and like my review title, it's a gift that nobody would want. Corbet wants to tie this together with the damaged goods many famous people turn out to be, and as such, it feels a little tasteless. Isn't it enough that, to quote Roxie Hart in CHICAGO, "none of us got enough love in our childhoods"? Corbet wants to make a statement about pop culture, but the result just feels endless and super annoying.
Young Celeste sings an original song at a funeral and the footage of it goes viral and turns her into an instant star. Jude Law signs on as her manager, offering up sage yet dour advise as he watches his young charge turn into a glittering monster. Sia, also listed as a producer on the film, wrote the songs Celeste performs, and while melodic and cool, lose all of their power when sung by whatever is coming out of Portman or her singing stand-in's mouth. It's soft, whiny, and unbearable. And I LOVE pop music!
I still applaud Corbet's amibition, but it lacks discipline. It smacks of a filmmaker with something to say and the desire to say it all in one movie. He genuinely knows how to create suspense, as evidenced in the first act, but he takes it to a place where we're subjected to a rich person complaining about getting their picture taken, and that's no fun under any circumstances. Same goes for this film, which I cannot wait to forget.
Dealing with major issues like school shooting throughout the first act of the film, Vox Lux follows a young survivor in Celeste. After singing in public, she very rapidly receives critical praise and rises to super-stardom after a series of lucky breaks. Devolving into someone who now just appeals to the masses at an older age, the majority of this film deals with her drug and alcohol addictions. The plot itself, along with the natural progression of events is truly what made this film enjoyable, and the performances didn't hurt either.
Raffey Cassidy as young Celeste was fantastic and I can actually see Natalie Portman receiving nominations for her performance in this particular role as the older Celeste, but the casting itself wasn't great in my opinion. Without ruining the third act of the movie, there are some very strange casting decisions that may work for some viewers, but completely took me out of the film. On top of that, where I feel the majority of audience members may lose interest is specifically throughout the final act.
The first two acts held my attention quite well and I did believe that I was about to find another favourite film of 2018, but the finale of the film felt a little too simple and unsatisfying. Dealing with some very mature themes throughout most of the movie, I was hoping for a much deeper finale. Admittedly, there are a few scenes of character interaction that were very powerful, but that's just due to the fact that Natalie Portman brings her best here. Vox Lux begins with a lot of potential, which is why I found the conclusion to be disappointing.
From the visuals to the overall score, this was a very atmospheric picture that held my interest even when characters weren't even speaking, but that only lasted for so long in my opinion. This is a film that deals with a lot of issues and a lot of different time periods of this character's life, which is where my biggest complaint lies. This film is only 110 minutes long and there are scenes of people speaking to each other that last far too long, especially when other characters and storylines could've been explored a little further. This movie lingers for a long period of time on certain moments and then jumps forward in time, as if nothing interesting was going to happen. I felt like the movie cheated me a little.
In the end, Vox Lux has a great score and some very solid cinematography, along with a great performance by Natalie Portman. Those elements are possibly even good enough to warrant nominations, but the overall execution of the movie didn't quite leave me with much to remember. The opening few sequences of this film are absolutely riveting and jaw-dropping, but I feel as though the rest of the film was detouring to reach the finale, which wasn't all that exciting to me. I'd recommend it overall, but I just don't believe it will blow anyone away.