thu 19/09/2019

Vox Lux review – music biz drama with big ideas | reviews, news & interviews

Vox Lux review – music biz drama with big ideas

Vox Lux review – music biz drama with big ideas

Natalie Portman stars as a curdled pop diva born out of tragedy

Damaged: Natalie Portman as pop star Celeste

Common to the recent spate of films about aspiring singers, the theme of fame’s corrupting influence is hardly new. However, actor-turned-filmmaker Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux daringly freights this biographical sub-genre with cosmic significance, as he did the history movie with his 2015 directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader. Corbet gambles in likening celebrity crises with real-world catastrophes, but the implication that they stem from the same universal malaise strikes a chord.

Vox Lux visits Celeste Montgomery in her early teens, when she is played by English actress Raffey Cassidy, and as a 31-year-old in 2017, when Natalie Portman has the role. In eighth grade, Celeste survives being shot in a 1999 Staten Island high school massacre, during which she confronts the perpetrator, a fellow student. At a memorial service, she performs a song, written by her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin), that becomes a national anthem of mourning and catapults her into the greedy arms of the music industry.

The record company executive (Jennifer Ehle) charged with grooming Celeste for stardom makes her do dance lessons before her wounded spine has healed. Celeste’s rough-around-the-edges manager (Jude Law) doles out tough love. During a song-crafting sojourn in Stockholm, Eleanor introduces her to drinking and clubbing. In L.A. to make a video, Celeste is preyed on – and probably devirginized – by a dissolute English rocker. What little innocence she has left evaporates when she finds the manager in bed with Eleanor on the morning of 9/11.

Eighteen years later, Celeste (Portman) is a megastar purveying stadium-filling synthetic pop with bland girl-empowerment messages. A rancorous, self-obsessed drug addict with a history of misbehavior, she claims in a meeting with journalists in Manhattan that she is a deity. That she still hasn’t forgiven Eleanor for sleeping with the manager indicates Celeste nurtured a passion for him herself.Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy in Vox LuxThe ever-devoted Eleanor still writes Celeste’s songs without credit and has become the legal guardian of her teenage daughter Albertine (the excellent Raffey again, pictured above right). A scene in which Celeste takes Albertine to a diner, where Celeste typically acts out, suggests the daughter is more emotionally intelligent – or less damaged – than the mother, especially since she has been raised by the stable Eleanor.

A few hours later, just before a homecoming concert, Celeste suffers a drug-infused meltdown, yowling like a child having a tantrum. The moment of regression hints that her development was arrested at the time of the shooting. Portman seldom creates empathy with Celeste but makes her pitiable. She makes explicable, too, the emptiness of Celeste’s humanitarian pronouncements to the press on a day when she has to face questions about terrorists who, wearing replicas of a mask she popularized in a video, sprayed bullets at people on a Croatian beach.

Vox Lux ends in spectacle, not unlike Bohemian Rhapsody. In terms of ambition and stylistic panache, it outstrips it – as it does the likes of A Star Is Born and Teen Spirit. The mess that is Celeste owes to capitalism run amok and to societal fissures that manifest themselves in mental illness. This is a lot for a relatively modest movie to take on, and it makes it portentous in places, a not disagreeable quality emphasized by the late Scott Walker's brooding score. Corbet's consistent interest in exploring psychological and social fallout makes him a director to follow. Portman, too, should be applauded for humanizing a victim who became a monster.

Vox Lux outstrips Bohemian Rhapsody in terms of ambition and stylistic panache

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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