Saturday, 2 January 2021

Movie Review: Vox Lux (2018)

A music-and-terrorism drama, Vox Lux offers a slick visual style and the interesting seeds of an idea, but fails to expound.

In 1999, 14 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a school shooting in New Brighton, Staten Island, but with a bullet lodged in her spine. Supported by her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin), Celeste performs a heartfelt song at the televised memorial service and is catapulted to national attention. Her parents hire a manager (Jude Law) to guide her career, and Celeste is soon on the way to global stardom, her early experiences punctuated by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In 2017, Celeste (Natalie Portman) is a cynical, foul-mouthed diva, strung out on drugs and alcohol and dealing with the consequences of another tragedy, this one of her own making. Her teenaged daughter Albertine (again Raffey Cassidy) is mainly in the care of Ellie, although the sisterly bond between Celeste and Ellie has all but ruptured. Celeste is preparing to launch her newest album with a hometown concert, but a terrorist attack on a Croatian beach overshadows the preparations.

A visually rich style and hip, understated presentation featuring Willem Dafoe narration cannot hide the deep issues bedevilling Vox Lux. Director and co-writer Brady Corbet posits a provocative concept conflating terrorist acts with celebrity culture, but is unsure where to go with it. The film spends too much time on incidental scenes then lurches forward with uncoordinated pacing towards a tedious ending.

Celeste's rise to stardom and her redeeming adult qualities are skipped over in the gap between 2001 and 2017. As a result, and ironically when Natalie Portman enters the movie, the grown-up Celeste is an insufferable prima donna with all the pointy behaviours of a narcissist addict, an expert at belittling others and blaming them for it. Her inept handling of media questions about the Croatia terrorist attacks confirms her foul personality. Portman's performance is appropriately edgy, but her character deserves no sympathy or emotional investment, and leaves behind a catastrophic void at the heart of the film.

The final 15 minutes settle down to a bad concert, Portman as Celeste belting out a string of near-awful pop tunes with stiff dance moves underlining the garish spectacle. Lurking amidst all the bad costumes is commentary about a vacuous celebrity-worshipping society busily eroding itself while terrorists accelerate the job, but it's all lost in the on-stage muddle.



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