October 22, 2018

VIFF 2018 | Natalie Portman Drops 'Vox Lux'

"They wanted a show. I gave them a show."
Natalie Portman Brady Corbet | Vox Lux | VIFF 2018

VIFF 2018—Actor turned filmmaker Brady Corbet's second (highly polarizing) feature is easily one of the boldest, most original, and intense films of the year. Essentially two separate musically-tinged stories about one character, Vox Lux is almost an inverse parallel to the conventional Hollywood sheen of A Star is Born in its hyper-stylized, almost sociopathic nature of excess and how artistic messages of hope slowly devolve into hollow pop stardom.

Starring Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman as the teenage and adult versions of Celeste, a mass shooting survivor turned pop idol, the film is jarring in its tone and exploration of youthful indulgence. The chapter structure is pleasing yet obstructive with Cassidy also playing her initial character's teenage daughter when Portman takes over the role of Celeste with a thick Staten Island accent in the film's weaker second half.

Portman really goes for it but is just so over the top and feels misplaced after Cassidy's measured performance as a young Celeste. The film struggles to bring together both performances as a single character especially as Cassidy sticks around to provide an original take as her own daughter.

Raffey Cassidy Brady Corbet | Vox Lux | VIFF 2018

Stacy Martin as Celeste's doting sister in both halves is the film's supporting MVP anchoring the intense themes of trauma and survival. Her surprisingly subdued performance grounds Celeste's almost satirical rise to fame and her debaucherous antics as an adult and mother. An aging but charismatic Jude Law helps build the film's sense of grandeur as Celeste's protective manager.

It's impressive how ambitious Corbet's vision is as cinematographer Lol Crawley frames the nightmarish epic with a confident lens. The booming musical score by Scott Walker and original songs composed by Sia help build the aura of Celeste as a meek singer wannabe to full-fledged sensation in the mold of Britney Spears.

Corbet's dark fantasy pop musical drama is a searing look the price of fame from tragedy to symbol and trainwreck. Cassidy and Portman's rise and fall are beyond captivating even despite the harsh recreations of violent and traumatic events. It's an interesting use of original music to dramatize some serious subject matter.

Vox Lux screened at the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream. It opens in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre on January 10th.

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