If you wanted to complain about anything with A Star Is Born is we didn’t see enough of Ally’s journey to stardom. Vox Lux takes a more methodical and deliberate approach as we see the origins of a superstar’s creation. But this Natalie Portman vehicle hits a flat note with its take on modern obsession with celebrity and fame.
Director/Writer Brady Corbet kicks the film off on a shocking opening scene that shatters expectations of what seemed like a fluff fictional biopic. It’s arguably the film’s best scene thanks to Corbet’s camera angles and the slow unfolding of a tragedy.
Celeste (Raffey Cassidy, Tomorrowland) slowly overcomes an unspeakable tragedy at high school. With the help of her sister, Eleanor (Stacy Martin), she sings a tribute that catapults her to superstardom. There’s an added sense of importance to the story thanks to the narration from Willem Dafoe. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but it works in framing Celeste’s journey.
Celeste begins traveling the world with Eleanor in tow. With a realistic take on her chances of becoming a star, Celeste is a likable character with Cassidy providing a welcome sense of self assurance.
Jude Law and Jennifer Ehle co-star as Celeste’s manager and publicist. Initially, they are merely helping to steer Celeste’s career, but as the decades progress they become caretakers of her image.
I’m a massive Portman fan and have considered her generally stellar in all of her roles. With Vox Lux, she’s once again providing yet another layered character. But unlike most of her projects, Portman’s arrival midway through the film begins the slow derailing of Vox Lux.
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In one of his more puzzling choices, Corbet has Cassidy pull double duty as Celeste’s daughter Albertine. It’s a decision that needlessly creates confusion.
Corbet accelerated the story to such an extreme that he wants the audience to fill in the gaps as how this sweet and innocent girl could become such a mess. Sure, we’ve all probably seen enough stars fall from grace to imagine how Celeste wound up here, but Corbet doesn’t have anything else fresh to say.
Celeste is a disaster, she treats those closest to her terribly and is the cliche fragile celebrity. For a film with such a promising start, Vox Lux quickly loses its point just when it should be getting interesting.
Maybe the most frustrating aspect of the film is that in 2018 it’s no revelation that some celebrities can be obnoxiously self-absorbed. Celeste transforms from a likable, engaging character to a coddled brat. Corbet tries to work in something different with Celeste’s response to another tragedy, but it feels too indulgent on the incident.
Again, if Corbet hopes to surprise viewers by telling them something tragic can happen and then people can immediately detach it’s not exactly breaking news. That’s reality these days and his film is more of a reflection than a commentary on today’s sorry state of life.
At times, Corbet tries too hard to be forcefully artistic with long sped-up scenes, strobe-like shots and other narrative tricks. That’s not helped by a distracting and frequently irritating score from Scott Walker.
The final act is an extended concert sequence a la Bohemian Rhapsody. Portman pulls off pop star in her element with commendable presence, but the film lacks the immeasurable goodwill of rocking out to Queen’s iconic catalogue.
Ultimately, Corbet’s message gets too muddled to be effective. Does he want to challenge the digestible news cycle, the easily replaceable mentality of the next fad or put on a pedestal what he seeks to slam? The failures to satisfyingly answer those questions probably warrants Vox Lux’s status as a warm-up act for better music dramas.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Neon