Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy
Director: Brady Corbet
Running Time: 110 mins
Vox Lux is an American film about the story of the rise of Celeste, a small town girl turned major popstar following an unexpected and unusual turn of events.
The age-old story of the rise of a superstar from humble beginnings to a troubled lifestyle at the peak of their career, Vox Lux seems like it should be a fairly simple watch, furthered by heavy-going, dark drama throughout.
However, while it impresses with a striking opening act and some shocking moments, the film is far off what it needs to be to really hit home, struggling not only with a lack of really dark, harrowing emotion, but also a convoluted and misfocused story that makes what should have been a fairly straightforward watch a real narrative mess.
Let’s start off with the one thing that does make a little bit more sense here, and that’s the rise of Celeste from a harrowing change in her life to being an international popstar. You know the story both from previous films as well as real-life, but the one thing that this film aims to do to offer up something different is inject a much darker, even psychotic dramatic element into the story, as we learn about why her life and career have ended up the way they have, and all of the tension and horror bubbling beneath the facade.
In that, the film does a brilliant job early on, with a devastating opening scene that’s followed up with an intriguing and unsettling look into the early days of this singer’s career, as she’s thrust from a trauma from which she is clearly still suffering into the strange world of the music business, with that emotional trauma only embedding itself deeper as her career begins to take off.
However, while it starts off in striking and brilliantly dark fashion, the movie really doesn’t keep that up to an intense degree for the rest of the duration. Instead, while there are darker elements to its story, it never taps into a genuinely harrowing or devastating emotional depth that a film like Black Swan does, meaning that its discourse about show business feels really rather generic.
Therefore, through the second and third acts, there’s very little to really gain from the movie. Following on from Raffey Cassidy’s impressive performance as young Celeste, Natalie Portman tries her best to inject some real psychodrama into the mix (something she has proved brilliant at in the past with Black Swan and Jackie), but there really isn’t anywhere near enough depth or powerfully dark drama to be seen here, meaning that the film slogs through its final two acts to a rather damp squib of an ending.
And this is where my big problem with Vox Lux comes in. If it’s a movie that’s just meant to be about show business, then it certainly isn’t deep or dark enough to grab you at any point. If, on the other hand, it’s meant to be a wider, deeper insight into society, encompassing both the music business as well as social issues like terrorism, adolescence and more, then it’s certainly a bold attempt, but all of those topics are spread far too thin throughout the movie.
And that’s a real shame, because I could tell from the start that this movie isn’t just meant to be about the music business. However, despite its assertions of the link between the rise of Celeste and the changing nature of society, it brings in a wide range of social topics and other focuses and really makes a mess of bringing them all together under one roof.
There is certainly intelligence in the writing here, but there just isn’t the competence and slick ability that better films have been able to employ in order to really grab you with its wider narrative discourse. As a result, not only does the weaker showbiz side of the story take centre stage, but the whole film feels all over the place, failing to nail down a good, consistent dramatic focus that combines with an even more boldly dark atmosphere to really enthrall you, and that’s why I’m giving Vox Lux a 6.2 overall.