Vox Lux (2018)

Vox Lux
Director: Brady Corbet
Writer: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Raffey Cassidy, Christopher Abbott, Willem Dafoe
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 3.11.2018

When teenager Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) sings at a memorial, her career as a pop star takes off. She finds a manager (Jude Law) and a publicist (Jennifer Ehle) and rises to fame, always accompanied by her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) who writes her songs. 18 years later, Celeste (Natalie Portman) is still a star, but she also struggles. Especially her relationship with her sister and her daughter Albertine (Raffey Cassidy) is strained, but there are other issues as well. As she prepares for the tour of her new album, tensions rise everywhere.

Vox Lux is a well-made film with an excellent cast that appears to be saying more than it actually does. I failed to really connect with it.

The film poster showing Celeste (Natalie Portman) in full stage make-up singing.

The film starts very strong – and for me, the way it starts was very unexpected, increasing its impact. And as long as the story stayed with young Celeste, I was very much with it. But in the second half of the film, (older) Celeste grew very tiresome to me. So tiresome, in fact, that I started to lose my empathy for her, and without that, the film started to feel a little vapid.

This is not the fault of Natalie Portman who gives an amazing performance and manages to make Celeste laugh out loud funny at times. But I didn’t want to laugh about Celeste, nor did I want to hate her or be annoyed by her. I wanted to like her or at least feel sympathy, but I just couldn’t anymore. Maybe that was the intended effect of the film, but I doubt that it is all that clever. And even if it was, I would be puzzling over why it wanted me to dislike Celeste that much.

Celeste (Natalie Portman) holding the hand of her daughter Albertine (Raffey Cassidy).

There were interesting things in what the film tried to say – the connection between fame and tragedy it draws in a few ways, always with the big money machine clunking in the background, slowly grinding everyone up, especially if they don’t perform. But nothing about that struck me as particularly new or insightful.

The two parts that worked best for me was one, Celeste’s visual style in her pop art and generally her music/performance and two, the creepiness of Law’s manager character, who always walked the line, and not too subtly, between predatory manipulation, exploitation and genuine feeling for Celeste and just goes to show how fucked up the talent-manager relationship can be (and probably often is, especially when it’s an older man and a young girl).

But other than that, the film unfortunately didn’t come together for me.

Celeste (Natalie Portman) on stage.

Summarizing: I’ve seen worse, but I’ve also seen better.

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