Last night, I drove to a theater 40 minutes away to watch Natalie Portman’s latest film, Vox Lux. Directed by Brady Corbet, whose first film The Childhood of a Leader received almost universal acclaim, Vox Lux does not shy away from controversy. Though this review won’t purposely include spoilers, there are certain aspects of the film that can’t be discussed without giving some things away. As someone who prefers to go into films like Vox Lux knowing as little as possible, I’d definitely suggest watching it before reading any reviews. I enjoyed going into the experience as a blank slate.
Vox Lux centers around Celeste, a teenager involved in a horrific tragedy who then goes on to launch a career in the music industry. Though Portman has top billing, Raffey Cassidy as a young Celeste (and later Celeste’s daughter) stole the show for me–even if there were certain points where her accent was audibly slipping. Young Celeste’s innocent yet assertive demeanor ensured that this was not the typical story of a teenager being taken advantage of by the vultures of the entertainment industry. Part of the movie revolves around Celeste’s relationship with her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin), exploring the interesting dynamic that evolves between siblings when only one achieves fame and success. The cast is completed by Jude Law’s scuzzy performance as Celeste’s manager and Willem Dafoe’s turn as the film’s narrator.
The film is broken down into four acts: Prelude, Genesis, Regenesis, and Finale. For me, Prelude was definitely the most powerful and intriguing part, as the film’s full credits run over images of Celeste bloody in an ambulance, clinging to her life. Though the film had several striking shots following its opening, it never quite surpassed the impact of its first 20 minutes or so. Portman’s performance begins in Regenesis, around halfway through the film after a 16-year time jump. Though her commitment to the character was clear, it was far from her strongest outing. Her best moment comes right before Celeste is set to take the stage for the first show of her redemption tour, as she weeps in her sister’s arms.
The film’s final sequence shows the fully-matured version of Celeste in action, and though for others it may have fell flat, for me it didn’t matter so much. After all, Celeste herself points out that in order to be successful in the pop music industry, you must have an angle. She found her angle years before and simply used her modest amount of talent to turn tragedy into a successful career. Celeste’s talent (or lack thereof) was far less important for me than the themes Corbet explores–those are what really make the film worth watching. It’s also worth noting the fact that women drive and lead the cast the entire way, with Law’s character mostly sitting in the back seat.
It’s not a cautionary tale a la A Star Is Born, nor is it simply a biopic based on a starlet. Rather, Vox Lux is an exploration of the influence of violence on pop culture (and vice-versa), illustrated through the story of Celeste’s rise to stardom. Unlike other films with musicians as protagonists, it doesn’t feel stale or tired. With striking cinematography and and a beautiful score, Vox Lux represents a stylish foray into a subject-matter that so often lacks imaginative and original approaches.
Gender Representation: ★★★★☆
Overall Quality: ★★★★☆