[Film Review] Vox Lux (2018)

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Title: Vox Lux
Year: 2018
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Music
Director/Writer: Brady Corbet
Music: Scott Walker
Cinematography: Lol Crawley
Natalie Portman
Raffey Cassidy
Jude Law
Stacy Martin
Jennifer Ehle
Willem Dafoe
Christopher Abbott
Maria Dizzia
Rating: 6.2/10

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After hobnobbing with European art-house dignitaries like Lars von Trier (MELANCHOLIA, 2011), Olivier Assayas (CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, 2014), Ruben Östlund (FORCE MAJEURE, 2014), Bertrand Bonello (SAINT LAURENT, 2014), former actor Brady Corbet, who has sunk his teeth before the camera in Gregg Araki’s MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004) and Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (2007), officially takes the director chair, and VOX LUX is his second feature, after THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (2015).

Structurally divided into 4 parts: prologue, act I: genesis, act II: re-genesis and epilogue, and outsourcing much of its story-wise content to Willem Dafoe’s comforting if monotonous voice-over, VOX LUX is a rigid dichotomy about pop star Celeste (played by Cassidy as a 14-year-old and Portman in a full diva mode, 17 years later), both timelines are induced by heinous acts (a school shooting and a terrorist attack on a beach resort, incidentally, there is something rather unsavory in wantonly rubbing out someone as genial as Maria Dizzia), which ironically point up the transmogrification between Celeste’s the teenager and Celeste’s the diva, from a mass killing survivor to a temperamental artiste whose iconography is used for another mass killing, and alas, that the passage VOX LUX chooses to omit.

Instead, condensing the second-half into one opening day of Celeste’s homecoming concert, Corbet shifts the burden entirely onto Portman’s terrific transmutation into an insufferable prima donna, who dominates every single second of the frame henceforth and does a pyrrhic job to magnify Celeste’s mutable interactions with her retinue and the media, trying to connect with her daughter (again, played by Cassidy, and elicits some confusion prima facie), bullying her elder sister (a strangely amenable Stacy Martin who has a gaping age difference to surmount) and coaxing her long-time manager (Jude Law, humbly playing a second fiddle sans any trace of bravado), all leads to the fluorescent climax, the show must go on, however, counterpoised by recent sensational hits like Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN (2018) and Bryan Singers’ BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018), Corbet’s staging looks miserably perfunctory and Portman’s assiduous dancing routines almost risible, as if she strains to portray a pop star who has already been over the hill and is spoiling for one last chance of revivification against her stiff body, yet the film doesn’t prepare us enough meat to support that particular angle, not to mention, Sia’s songs (who also dubs Portman’s singing voice) are atrociously unmemorable, whether this is intentional or not is elusive.

Incubating a continental otherness that distantiates itself from massive USA productions (relocating the end credits right after the horrific prologue is a nice move, for instance), and over-indulging in home-video, fast-forwarding trickeries to ginger up the game, VOX LUX is a curious signpost of a young filmmaker’s trial-and-error path to maturity, though at the expense of Portman’s ill-fated star turn.

referential entries: Olivier Assayas’s CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2014, 7.0/10); Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN (2010, 8.7/10).

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