Vox Lux Reviews
It serves as a dual purpose social commentary on our desensitization to random acts of violence, and North America's blinding fascination with fame and the distraction that pop music provides from the real world. The film opens in 1999 (coincidentally the year that Columbine happened, and when Britney Spears became a household name) and takes us through to 2017, where Celeste is in her 30's... a far cry from the sweet and innocent 14-year-old we got to know in act 1 of the film. Grown-up Celeste is cynical, self-absorbed and clearly miserable. She's also seemingly desensitized to the mass shooting that takes place in act 2, perhaps as a result of her own experience surviving a school shooting when she was a teenager, or perhaps because of her delusions of grandeur and the "bubble" of "me myself and I" she's been living in her entire adult life. She is also about to partake in a big "homecoming" performance... a comeback of sorts, for an audience of 30,000 (which the film builds up to).
I think the ending disappointed a lot of viewers (it doesn't necessarily feel like it CONCLUDES - rather - it just continues, even after the credits roll). But I think that's kind of the point... Celeste is Celeste, and she's a monster of our making, and so long as she continues to be surrounded by handlers who feed her drugs, yes people, and sell out stadiums, she's not going to change.
I was unfamiliar with the director's work before seeing the movie, but I thought he did a great job nailing the tone of the film, and setting an atmosphere and mood right from the get go that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Overall, I enjoyed the movie for what it was - a cynical POV on post-Y2K American culture, and a great character piece reminiscent of multiple pop stars (past and present).
"Vox Lux", however, talks more about the decay of a star, while "A star is born" is more about the rise of a singer in the midst of the fall of her boyfriend also singer.
Roughly speaking, that's what the movie is about. The difficult thing is to find in Brady Corbet's work a narrative structure beyond this cliché vision. And also a reflection on what the director intended to say with all the elements he gathered in this film.
Lack depth to "Vox Lux". What did Corbet mean by associating attacks and the brutal violence of terrorism and mass murder with the story of a girl who soon became a pop star? Is Celeste the result of violence for being in a school attacked by a boy in the same mold of Columbine? Is that why you want to become a pop star? To bring joy to the fans in the midst of the violence?
Violence is always present in your career. The beginning of the attack on the school, the middle during the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 2001 and the rebirth when it has to deal with an attack in Croatia that closely resembles that of a Tunisian beach in 2015. And what this all has to do with a young star who turns into a very young mother and becomes an inconsequent adult, drugged and alcoholic, but at the same time a pop diva full of fans?
Corbet is not clear on what he wants with his film. And it is not even intended to leave on the air subjects for the spectator to reflect for itself. In fact, "Vox Lux" is a big mess that does not point in one direction at all.
Meanwhile, Natalie Portman tries to defend her character with claw. We've never seen her so full of trifles. Her Celeste is a caricature of the pop stars, but the way of the sarcasm seems only taken by her and not accompanied by the film, that still counts on a Jude Law rarely apathetic in the paper of the manager of Celeste.
"Vox Lux" still ends with a long take on a show, which reminded me of the embarrassing ending of "Bohemian Rhapsody". If there was any message to give at that moment, whether through the performance or the messages on the big screen, they were not clear. Or even symbolic. It was a big nothing.
The feeling that remains is exactly that void that "Vox Lux" has passed. It could have been better, but it was a waste of time.
Paired with Brady Corbet's sharp commentary on celebrity, worship, and their interlocking relationships and influence on tragedy, 'Vox Lux' is as smart a film as they come. Corbet's brilliant writing and directing, alongside Matthew Hannam's reality-bending editing job, weave both of the film's time periods together in one of the best crafted pieces of cinema in recent memory. It's the kind of inspiring stuff that creates future filmmakers as the credits roll.
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 named 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 Lady 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 advice 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 ambition, 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.
Thirteen-year-old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is a survivor of a grisly school shooting on Staten Island. Unable to put her adolescent thoughts and feelings into words, she co-opts a song written by her sister for her part in the memorial service. The video goes viral, and mononymous Celeste is born, instantly whisked away to Manhattan for demos, production meetings and, eventually, a trip to Stockholm to cut her first record with a legendary producer. One intuits that it's all moving much too fast. Celeste's rapid rise to celebrity status and her too-soon loss of innocence parallel many of the events, particularly the burgeoning cynicism, of the culture around her. September 11 is thrown in at the end of this sequence, just in case we miss the point.
The final segment features a 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman), filled with cynicism and self-loathing, fueled by booze and drugs. As some have observed, this is "A Star is Born" for the bubblegum set. The film concludes with Celeste performing in her hometown, hoping for a comeback from a series of personal and professional disasters in 2017. To her credit, Portman does her own singing in this closing sequence, although her power-pop repertoire hardly calls for the vocal range of Freddie Mercury.
Where the film fails is as metaphor, analogy or any sort of clear-eyed social commentary. Claiming to offer "A Twenty-First Century Portrait," director Brady Corbet ("The Childhood of a Leader" 2015) creates a picture frame that contains eye-catching colors but no real depth, texture or context. Is Celeste's loss of innocence inevitable? Is success always a result of whim, chance or random circumstance? Is the will to succeed always based in insecurity, if not self-loathing? Does success always come at another's expense? Perhaps "Vox Lux" is mirroring contemporary culture simply by failing to take a clear stance on anything. Alternatively, this film's ultimate contribution may be its confirmation that truth and self-awareness are hard-earned. Unfortunately, "Vox Lux" is cotton candy - an airy confection that, upon close examination, offers little substance.