|Via Entertainment Weekly|
Watching Vox Lux was like putting together this great puzzle only to find out you don’t have all the pieces at the end; for the most part, my issues with Vox Lux have nothing to do with what I saw, but what I didn’t see.
After being victim in a school shooting, Celeste writes a song for the victims which sees her career soar into stardom. Fast forward to her thirties, and she has a kid she hardly knows, a drug and alcohol problem, and is now associated with a controversy regarding another mass shooting. Can she make her comeback?
Natalie Portman is awesome, and in the role of Celeste, she is firing on all cylinders. Portman embodies the persona of a star in over their heads, with her thick Staten Island accent, her snappy attitude, her rapid change in emotion, and her overall way of conducting herself. People who criticize her performance for being too over-the-top miss the point, that’s who her character is: over-the-top. To play Celeste with any less exaggeration or vulgarity, wouldn’t correctly portray the larger-than-life identity we associate with this kind of celebrity. But before Portman arrives to the big screen, Raffey Cassidy who plays young Celeste proves her talent. Her quick transition from innocence blends perfectly with the brutal depiction the film gives of a child exposed to the darker side of the world. Cassidy then returns in the second act of the film as the daughter of Celeste, and even in a more limited role continues to impress. Jude Law does well with what he is given as Celeste’s manager also.
Vox Lux pops with vivid imagery and musical tracks reminiscent of what you’d hear on the hits-today radio station; the costume and makeup design in the final act of the film are eye-catching, looking like they came straight from a Lady Gaga act, and the production design is also fitting. Vox Lux’s style is on cocaine and acid. On the flip side, the school shooting which opens the film is one of the most graphic and brutal sequences I’ve seen all year, and while I praise the film for its courage to display such a realistic image, I should probably warn any sensitive viewers. And while less violent, the rest of the film following Celeste is not sanitized in the slightest. Celeste clearly has issues, clearly needs help, and the film makes you feel the struggle she faces in stopping her life from going into a complete downward spiral. Vox Lux, from what it showed me, was fantastic. Besides the questionable decision to throw in the occasional Willem Dafoe narration, I found myself very much wrapped up in the movie…until I realized the end was near and I wasn’t going to get a very resolving conclusion.
Vox Lux is a film which bites off more than it can chew, and it bites off a lot. The choice of including a school shooting in Celeste’s origin I believe is no coincidence; the director and writer clearly want to put out a message on the violence and overwhelming consequences of such a traumatizing event in regards to its victims. However, while the shooting physically impairs Celeste for the rest of the film, it doesn’t mentally. The interpersonal issues Celeste faces later in her life are less directly connected to the shooting, and more to how fast she finds herself in adulthood and stardom. Outside of the meds Celeste takes for her spinal pain, the school shooting is hardly brought up or referred to again in the movie; in a day and age where a topic is so relevant, the shooting feels glossed over after it is done. And then when another mass shooting happens, it receives the same treatment. Celeste and her management team refuse to say anything to the press on the issue until they learn more information, but they and therefore we don’t ever receive more information. Vox Lux uses mass shootings in its story to comment on today’s growing violence problem (with mass shootings being the most significant trend within this problem), and yet hardly uses them at all. The film’s ending is abrupt and completely unsatisfying; it doesn’t feel Celeste has really grown as a character. Vox Lux is a character study on an individual corrupted by fame, and yet has very little to say. Vox Lux needed to cut down on scenes which went on too long, and spent more time developing and concluding its storylines, thus better conveying its message.
Vox Lux is frustrating in how it squanders its potential, sometimes being really good and other times being unsatisfying. 7.5/10