Brady Corbet’s new film about the pitfalls of stardom is an interesting but flawed picture; one with worthwhile themes and terrific performances, but not with a great deal to say.
Vox Lux stars both Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy as Celeste, a singer who shot to fame at a very young age after a childhood tragedy. The film is split into two, as we see her find success as a teenager, and also wrestle with the media after another sad event takes place on the day of her concert years later.
There is no question that the film offers plenty to be admired. It’s frankly gorgeous to look at, with Lol Crawley’s wonderful cinematography bringing the story to life in a beautiful yet distorted way that is both thematically-pleasing and enthralling, wonderfully complimented by Scott Walker’s chilling score.
Its central performances are also terrific, with Natalie Portman in particular at her absolute best, completely transforming into the role and clearly having the time of her life doing so. Raffey Cassidy does good work, particularly as Celeste’s daughter Albertine in an odd yet successful casting choice in the film’s second half. One moment in a restaurant stands out for both performers, who share excellent chemistry as they vie for the spotlight.
The fundamental flaw with Vox Lux is its theme, or rather its execution. Corbet is trying to get to the bottom of such a figure as Celeste, where she has come from and how she must have changed to become what she is. However, while this is all portrayed in a very subtle fashion for the majority of the picture, it’s the closing minutes that let it down. Willem Defoe’s misplaced narration interrupts Celeste’s show to spell things out to the audience in a rather lazy fashion. It’s an ending that undermines all the interesting work that came before it, ultimately leaving the viewer with a sour taste.
Undoubtedly, the concert sequence is absolutely fantastic. It’s presented with class, aided by memorable original music from Sia, and Portman absolutely owns the stage. However, while the show is indeed worth the wait, it’s simply complimented by an ending that feels too obvious and easy to be truly affecting.
Throughout the film, there are other moments like this in which Corbet acts against subtlety and chooses the easy way out, including the catastrophe in the second act that feels like an out-of-place choice used simply to incite shock as opposed to being perhaps what the story actually needed.
In the end, Vox Lux is an interesting film with engaging moments throughout that simply never amounts to anything special. It’s a film with a lot to say, but it isn’t saying anything new, nor is it saying it in a particularly clever way. It’s beautifully presented and extremely well-acted, but its themes don’t land the way Corbet clearly wants them to. It’s all just too self-important to work and, for all its qualities, it sadly fades away into nothing as the third act draws the film to a close in the least satisfying way.
It’s not without its high-points, and it’s certainly worth watching for each and every one of them, but overall Vox Lux feels like a film that never fully became the sum of its parts.
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