Cast: Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy, Jude Law, Stacy Martin
Director: Brady Corbet
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: VOX LUX, A 21st Century Portrait, begins in 1999 when teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a violent tragedy. After singing at a memorial service, Celeste transforms into a burgeoning pop star with the help of her songwriter sister (Stacy Martin) and talent manager (Jude Law). Celeste’s meteoric rise to fame dovetails with a personal and national loss of innocence, consequently elevating the young powerhouse to a new kind of celebrity: American icon, secular deity, global superstar. By 2017, adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) is mounting a comeback after a scandalous incident almost derailed her career. Touring in support of her sixth album, a compendium of sci-fi anthems entitled, “Vox Lux,” the indomitable, foul-mouthed pop savior must overcome her personal and familial struggles to navigate motherhood, madness and monolithic fame.
Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “this could have been so much better if only one of the things the film attempts to do went right?” Well, Vox Lux hits that idea down with precision I have rarely seen elsewhere. I see what the film is trying to accomplish, but the execution is just so poor almost every step of the way that it distracts from the main point of the movie. If Cassidy was not in her role and Sia did not contribute her musical vision to the film, then I legitimately believe this could have been one of the worst films of the year. This movie tries so hard to appear way more important than it actually is, and manages to underwhelm every step of the way.
The film follows Celeste (Cassidy), a young pop star who gained fame after her song took off following Celeste surviving a school shooting. 15 years later, we see what the fame and fortune have done to an adult Celeste (Portman) and the consequences that it has had on her and her teenage daughter Albertine (Cassidy). The main issue that the film faces is that everything feels like a plot device and none of the stories ever feel like they finish. When you have a film made up exclusively of plot devices, it means you never really have a plot and it feels like nothing ever happens. Specifically in the mess of the second half of this movie, we see glimpses into a day in the life of Celeste, but nothing ever comes to a satisfying conclusion. For example, there is a news report of an incident a few years back where Celeste hit a pedestrian with her car and went on a racist tirade. This comes up every once in a while during the second half of the movie, but we never get any sort of insight into this incident and the long-term consequences for Celeste or the victim. This is just one of the many examples of a half-story being told just so we can move the movie along. Whether it is the identity of Albertine’s father, the drug use that Celeste still relies on, or the terrorist attack that kicks off the second half, none of these ideas are ever fully explored and exist just to give us a glimpse at the story, but never the full level of detail. The sad part is the first half of the movie is actually pretty interesting. Seeing a teenager go through such a traumatic experience and then going through a career thank preys on damaged people is far more interesting than seeing the aftermath and the unrelatable person that Celeste has become. Cassidy could end up as a very successful actress one day based on her performance and is one of the few bright spots in this film. I would have loved if the first half of the movie ended up being the whole movie with more character development, as this would have been a far more interesting movie. Instead, we ended up getting a movie that is far too pretentious for its own good and should have just stuck to the basics.
Overall, I had moderately high expectations for Vox Lux, and sadly the finished product did not come close to meeting them. Corbet is a young director and Portman is a battle-tested actress and I am confident that both of them will bounce back. I should have known that I would be in for a rough time when the movie opened and maintained a voiceover for the entire 110 minute runtime, and sadly that was the least of this movie’s issues. When a 16-year-old is the one who is carrying the majority of the movie, then you know this film has some pretty massive issues. I see the potential for a really good movie and the foundation for something very unique and interesting, but the film is just too riddled with issues to ever take the next great step.
Overall Score: 3.5/10