Vox Lux - Review

Vox Lux is difficult, visceral, and an overall challenge to watch, but there’s enough good here to warrant the questionable design choices.

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A noted admirer of Lars von Trier (as well as a player in his work), director Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux can feel indulgent. It tells the story of Celeste, survivor of an all too realistic school shooting gone pop-star after performing a moving musical tribute to the victims. As Willem Dafoe narrates, the grief is taken from her and placed in the people’s hands, and in return, Celeste is rewarded with fame. Similarities to Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born end here, as Vox Lux attempts to capture how tragedy removes humanity. It’s impersonal, and often holds the audience at arm’s length, but there is a riveting story at the center, and it’s another in a string of excellent performances from Natalie Portman.

Divided into three Acts and a Prelude, the film follows the meteoric rise of Celeste’s career, first as a teen for Act One, then as an adult for Act Two and the Finale. Young Celeste is played by Raffey Cassidy in a way that resembles Elle Fanning’s performance in The Neon Demon. Despondent and witty, she seems to be the only one that understands who she is after growing more confident through association with her new world of admirers. In fact, the entire film rings of The Neon Demon, which had a stellar visual sense and plot, but faltered in the most crucial of storytelling aspects. It couldn’t bridge the gap between reality and allegory, and neither can Vox Lux. It tells two stories, one of how tragedy affects people, and another of how success is trivial in our world, but doesn’t provide a meaningful connection. It threatens to be impulsive, with sporadic narration, wild scoring from Scott Walker, and a prolonged final scene that nearly runs the full length of a concert. It’s not completely lost in its wealth of ideas, but they tend to feel scattered, tossed to the side to make room for whatever advances the plot.

The biggest “hey audience, listen to this!” moment of Vox Lux comes in a tense discussion between Celeste and her daughter, Albertine, also played by Raffey Cassidy. Anxious and sleep deprived, Celeste launches into a speech about how the music industry, and by extension the world, doesn’t value art like it used to. All people want is spectacle and drama, or something to ogle at; certainly not an emotional hymn for a group of murdered classmates. This is reflected in the final Act, the arena show. Celeste’s performance is bombastic, and massively sexual, but it is not original. Her songs, written by Sia, are the kind of shiny pop bangers the industry is churning out today through artists like Anne-Marie, Ed Sheeran, and Dua Lipa; that is to say, heartless, gutless, and completely forgettable. The only reason the songs in Vox Lux work is because of what comes before: A meltdown in a dressing room followed by a crew pump-up before the show visualizes Celeste’s inability to escape her bipolar lifestyle, and her performance is just as splintered. The songs are blood-pumping, and her sentiments are affirming, but she has no affection for her audience or music. She’s being dragged along by her own life, stuck in the system she put herself in, now so far removed from any helping hand it’s impossible to call for help. The performance is unnerving to watch, as we are finally given an explanation for Celeste’s personality and choices. The message is sincere, but there isn’t enough connective tissue between the film’s messages; Vox Lux will make you feel something, but it won’t be earned.