Friday, December 21, 2018

Movie Review: "Vox Lux" (2018)

Director: Brady Corbet
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

A survivor of a school shooting becomes an international singing sensation when her tribute song hits the top of the pop charts. Over time, she becomes accustomed to the destructive rockstar lifestyle.

Vox Lux 2018 movie still Natalie Portman Raffey Cassidy
"Today's some kind of sick joke, huh?" (Image Source)
Sometimes, movies feel like they have something profound to say, but something gets messed up, or even entirely lost, in the delivery. Or maybe, there wasn't really anything to say at all. That's sort of what we feel happened with "Vox Lux." This movie is written and directed by Brady Corbet, an actor-turned-writer-and-director known for the film "The Childhood of a Leader." This film tells the story of a pop star named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy). As a kid growing up in Long Island at the age of 14, she was the survivor of a shooting at her school. She and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) write an inspirational song as a tribute to the victims of the shooting, which Celeste performs at an on-camera memorial service. The song becomes a hit, making Celeste an overnight sensation, which is spun into a thriving decades-long career as a pop star. This introduces the once-innocent Celeste to a world of fast living, drugs, alcohol, and sex. As an adult, Celeste (Natalie Portman) has lived through many controversies. She is struggling to connect with her daughter Albertine (Raffey Cassidy) while simultaneously preparing to launch a fresh tour in promotion of her new album "Vox Lux."
Vox Lux 2018 movie still Natalie Portman
"That's the thing about pop music. I don't want them to think too hard, I just want them to feel good." (Image Source)
We didn't know anything about "Vox Lux" (other than the cast) going into it. We missed this one at the San Diego International Film Festival, so we were excited that it came to a local theater of ours. Nothing could have prepared us for the first few shocking, unexpected minutes of the movie. It feels sort of like Corbet is exploiting an emotional reaction from a horrific event to engage the audience and get us to sympathize and empathize with the situation of everyone involved. Well, it's hard not to invoke a response out of a beginning like that with it being so fresh in our minds every damn time we turn on the news, so we guess he accomplished what we set out to do?

"Vox Lux" is a picture that revels in its somber, bleak outlook and examines the nihilistic nature of the world we live in, which is pretty accurate, but doesn't make for the greatest viewing experience. The message we got out of this story is that no matter how honorable your beginnings, by the end, we all get corrupted and turn into narcissistic assholes. Some people will be drawn to this because they may mistake its dark themes and sinister worldview as quality storytelling. And speaking of the story, it's a bit of a mess because its scope is so grandiose as it tries to tackle many different things at once. Unfortunately, it seems to lack focus and offers a clumsy delivery of its moral come the latter portion of the film. The most compelling parts of Celeste's life that aren't centered around an act of terror are the moments examined by Willem Dafoe's narration, not necessarily what is explored on-screen. The movie is a character sketch that fails to fully develop its main character. That being said, Natalie Portman gives a tremendous performance as a 31-year-old pop star who has had her spirit crushed through living her most impressionable years under the microscope of the public eye. Celeste has had to live out all of her mistakes in front of the three-ring circus that is the media, and in turn, has become jaded and bitter, but lets it fuel her performances. Raffey Cassidy, who plays both the young Celeste and Celeste's daughter in an odd casting decision, does a good job as well, though she struggles to maintain her Long Island accent and doesn't always hide her natural British inflection. Celeste's David Bowie-meets Lady Gaga-meets Velvet Goldmine-inspired make-up and wardrobe are both gorgeously detailed. This is probably the single best element about the movie apart from Portman's performance. BigJ didn't think the music was all that memorable, but I enjoyed it.
Vox Lux 2018 movie still Natalie Portman Raffey Cassidy
"There's no money in music anymore." (Image Source)
BigJ had a much greater dislike for "Vox Lux" than I did. I was much more in the middle of things, and I can't quite put my finger on whether or not I liked it entirely or not. We both agree that we would never watch this movie again, but there are some redeemable qualities here for the more cynically-inclined cinema lovers. At the end of the day, we left the theater asking ourselves, "is Brady Corbet okay?"

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.2/10
RT Rating: ~67%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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