Vox Lux | 2018 | 1 hr 50 minutes | dir. Brady Corbet | Neon
A guy I met at a party recommended Vox Lux. I watched it because I love Natalie Portman, Jude Law and movies about music.
There are a lot of very unusual things about Vox Lux. The same actress plays both young Natalie Portman and her daughter. The film tackles school shootings, terrorism, teen pregnancy, viral fame, substance abuse, and sexual assault, although none particularly well. Sia wrote a handful of catchy tunes for the movie. And Jude Law has a Brooklyn accent.
Celeste (Raffey Cassidy/ Natalie Porman) becomes famous when a song she wrote after being the victim of a school shooting goes viral. She transitions from teen sensation to global superstar, guided by her manager (Jude Law) and sister/ musical partner Eleanor (Stacy Martin). Eighteen years after the shooting, Celeste is now a bitter, tempestuous, distrustful celebrity. She wants her daughter’s love, but her daughter prefers Eleanor, who is more talented but relegated to the shadows because Celeste has a more compelling story. In the last scene there is a very sparkly pop concert featuring the Sia songs.
Vox Lux shows an interesting dichotomy between fame and violence. Although she’s not the shooter, Celeste becomes famous because of a shooting. This shows how our society rewards violence with fame, albeit unintentionally. Fame takes Celeste’s innocence, not the shooting, as if fame is more traumatizing than actual trauma. Writer/ director Brady Corbet was a teen actor. Is this what he feels fame did to him?
Vox Lux desperately wants to be worthy of the critical acclaim in the trailer (“One of the great films of 2018!” “Prepare to be wowed!”). Artistically, it struggles.
The film tells too much and shows too little. There are too many voice overs. The film casts a wide net (see the list of heavy subject matter in Paragraph 2), but uses many of these traumas as plot devices. The scene where Celeste is in a diner preaching life lessons to her daughter is boring, but the part where she asks the wait staff to smuggle her wine and then blows up in their faces about it is interesting.
I was most interested in Celeste’s relationship with Eleanor. The film shows a beautiful relationship between the two sisters, and then Eleanor becomes a scapegoat because she slept with Celeste’s love interest? Even though she writes all of Celeste’s music? Something doesn’t add up. I felt like the movie would be more interesting from Eleanor’s perspective.
But Natalie Portman doesn’t play Eleanor.
Oh, Natalie Portman. I want to praise Raffey Cassidy for “carrying” the first hour plus of exposition, but is she talented, or is she just skinny? Willem Dafoe’s narration really carries the exposition. The movie really starts 45 minutes before it ends, when Natalie Portman shows up. She gives an electric performance. She delivers bad dialogue in a way that makes it sound good. Her husband Benjamin Millepied choreographed the 15 minute dance sequence at the end of the movie, and he makes Natalie look fantastic.
I really enjoyed watching the end of Vox Lux as if Celeste were the reincarnation of Nina, Portman’s character from Black Swan. At the end of Black Swan, Nina dances herself to death in a sacrifice to art. In Vox Lux, Portman’s character is aggressively angry at the entertainment industry for taking the best of her. I’d LOVE to believe Nina from Black Swan rose from the ashes as swaggering, pissy Celeste. She even wears a choker, which is supposed to cover up scars from Celeste’s surgery, but doesn’t it kind of remind you of that story where the little girl is really dead, and if you untie her ribbon, her head falls off?
Ironically for a decidedly heavy film, the gimmicks make Vox Lux work. The film artistically uses YouTube- style filmmaking, such as a “Video Games”-esque montage of Eleanor and Celeste in Paris and disturbing source footage of a terrorist attack. You can tell the songs Sia gave movie probably ended up on the cutting room floor after her last albums- they’re not album- worthy, but they’re not that bad. I really enjoyed the peek into Sia’s creative process. And Celeste models some very exciting chokers.
It’s not a revelatory piece of art, but it is kind of fun and interesting.