BFI London Film Festival: Vox Lux

Vox Lux
Vox Lux
Directed by Brady Corbet
Starring Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy, Stacy Martin and Jennifer Ehle
Screening at LFF October 15th and 16th 2018

by Joanna Orland

In 1999, teenaged Celeste (Cassidy) survives a high school shooting massacre. At the memorial, she performs a song she composed with her sister Eleanor (Martin), capturing the attention of an enthusiastic music manager (Law) who propels Celeste into pop stardom. Set post 9/11, the film’s second half sees 31-year-old Celeste (Portman) ravaged by fame, and as a mother to her own teenaged daughter Albertine (Cassidy). Celeste’s career and life is fraught with scandal and violence as she struggles to navigate through it with her sanity and sobriety intact. Director Brady Corbet uses Vox Lux as a commentary on the 21st Century and the prominent roles played by terror, tragedy and celebrity.

With an elaborate score, forced dialogue, and an air of stuffiness – all thread together by Willem Dafoe‘s narration – Vox Lux is pretentious to the core. The narration recounts Celeste’s life and comments on the tragedies surrounding it, both terrorist and self-induced. Played as a cross between Madonna, Britney, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Celeste sees herself as a saviour of sorts; respite from the terror of world events. As the second half builds to a homecoming show, the crux of it is, Celeste is actually a mediocre performer at best. Her songs are sugary pop, but bland and forgettable. Her dancing is laboured and stiff, relying on lighting and costumes to carry her through the set.

Vox Lux tells the story of a woman ruined by fame, shaped by her personal trauma and the wider terror of the world. Implying the roots of modern pop lie in the tragedies of 9/11 and Columbine is quite a bold statement, but not totally unfounded in a world with a reality TV star president. And let’s face it, it’s not that far-fetched to imagine David Hogg or Emma González putting out an album. Unfortunately, the exploration of this grand idea in Vox Lux is too pretentious and emotionally flat to leave an impact.


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