When the trailer for Vox Lux first surfaced, it seemed to be teetering the line between comedy and stylized drama, but at the very least looked interesting. The actor-turned-director, Brady Corbet was able to snag leading lady and Oscar winner Natalie Portman for his second outing, which seemed like quite the big get. Vox Lux was interesting in parts and I could see myself indulging in future viewings, but it didn’t quite come together as a complete film for me. Let me explain.
The story begins with that most topical of terrible events, a school shooting. Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is in a classroom with other students as the sound of gunfire fills the halls. One of the shooters enters the classroom barking orders at the class to go to the back of the room, but Celeste doesn’t comply at first. She engages in conversation with the shooter but eventually submits and makes her way to the back with the other students. As she’s trying to calm down the shooter we suddenly get a flash of the gunmen firing at the students, Celeste included. Celeste survives the shooting with some injuries and as she recovers in hospital we’re introduced to her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin). The two sisters, who seem to be close, twiddle around with some music as Celeste is in the hospital. We eventually make our way to a funeral service for the victims of the tragedy and Celeste, who is asked to speak, does so but also adds a song she and her sister concocted. The service, which is being broadcast across the world, gains Celeste and her song attention that leads to her being represented by a management group led by Jude Law. The song becomes a success and along with that comes the desire for more music from Celeste to feed the newfound fire of fame. We are then taken through the somewhat meteoric rise of Celeste who, along with her sister in a background role, start to make music videos and tour the globe. Long forgotten is the tragedy and we see the sparks of what is to become of Celeste.
As we move to the next act of the film we are shot to the present day, some 18 years later, to an adult Celeste (Natalie Portman). Celeste who has a young daughter, Albertine (also played by Raffey Cassidy) is now dealing with not only her mother’s fame but the dysfunctional life she’s caught up in. To add to the drama, a massacre at a beach resort has just happened and is connected to Celeste because the gunmen all wore masks that were featured in an early music video for one of her hit songs. Celeste is on her latest comeback tour with her new album, Vox Lux, and we follow her as she prepares for a big show in her hometown as well as dealing with the news of the shooting that has a connection to her.
The film is essentially the rise and fall and rise again of a pop star as well as a commentary on violence and how it is sensationalized through media. These are complicated times that we’re living in and Corbet seems to be trying hard to get his message across and almost succeeds. Where he falls a little short is in how the story seems to unravel at the very end and at one point I thought I was watching a full on pop concert. The reliable Portman is great as the older Celeste, and goes through a full range of emotions, fully committing to the character. She has quite a few funny moments and some great lines of dialogue. One of the film’s stronger elements is the arc Celeste takes and how the film engenders from the audience at first compassion and later distaste towards her character. Her flaws are shown all the way through – maybe she was eaten up by the machine of fame, something that garners her a little sympathy, but ultimately not enough to redeem her.
Jude Law as the manager was fantastic, and it was nice to see him back in these type of roles after his overexposure in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Other highlights are Stacy Martin as both the younger and older Eleanor and the later torment of being the sister of Celeste, even though she is the one with the talent for writing, singing and such. Raffey Cassidy was also very good in dual roles, even sounding like a young Portman when playing Celeste. The film is very stylized and benefits from it’s carefully staged look, especially the videos and concert footage. There were many humorous elements to Vox Lux, often to break the tension and I applaud Corbet for his writing.
I really wanted to love Vox Lux but it just fell so flat towards the end in spite of what seemed like an intentional build to something memorable. It would have been nice to receive some closure to these characters that I was enjoying spending time with. Vox Lux is one of those films that’s frustratingly hard to judge based on just one viewing. It does so much well and is generally well executed by all involved but a good film is only as good as it’s denouement and one thing Vox Lux really fails to do is stick the landing, a flaw that may diminish on further viewings. As it stands, Vox Lux is an admirable stab at a stylish drama but not one I can recommend as firmly as I’d like to.
Film ’89 Verdict – 7/10
Vox Lux is on limited theatrical release now.