by Philip Price
Director: Brady Corbet
Starring: Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy & Jude Law
Runtime: 1 hour & 54 minutes
“Vox Lux” director Brady Corbet, at the age of 30, has worked with the likes of directors such as Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, Ruben Östlund and Noah Baumbach, so it comes as no surprise that the actor, writer and filmmaker's second directorial effort is a divisive meditation on pop culture, how news-worthy tragedies spawn faces of such that then carry the weight of the audience's projections, and how the masses expect these public figures to help us heal from such tragedies without having the privacy or benefit of the doubt to handle whatever they're going through in regards to whatever they're expected to help everyone else cope with. In other words, as simple as the presentation is in “Vox Lux,” this is an intensely dense picture that has so many ideas floating around in its head it can't even keep track of everything it starts a conversation about. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly allows for some disconnect and confusion walking away from the film. It seems the film's intent is not to be about a single thing or single aspect of one thing, but it's also not clear which of these many things it's discussing should be the loudest.
Never have I ever felt more bewildered by a movie after watching it. Part of me was fascinated by what I saw unfold as the life of this young woman played out in two halves and three complete acts while the other half of me wanted to completely reject-in a sense-what this woman became or rather, what the world turned her into. Two minutes in-as the opening credits rolled-I was already positive I was going to love this thing for all it stood for and as it continued to develop through Raffey Cassidy's star-turning performance as both the young Celeste as well as the daughter of Natalie Portman's older Celeste, it only seemed more and more clear how groundbreaking this thing was; Corbet essentially melding the ideas of news and entertainment and begging (literally begging) his audience to remember there is a difference. As the film enters its second half though, taking place seventeen years after the first half, where we see Portman take over the main character and follow her through a day in the life it quickly became evident I kind of hated who this young, unassuming girl had become. She was now a woman but acted more like a child than ever before. So, coddled to the point her behavior was as tragic as it was laughable. Further, the final 15-to-20 minutes of the film see Portman fully becoming this pop star and it's an odd mix of "what's the big deal?" and "look at the production she's apparently worthy of." Is Celeste especially good? No. Is she insanely famous because she was a product of a moment and has used that moment to her advantage ever since? Kind of. There is something of a twist in regard to these ideas that is a genuinely great idea in and of itself, but needed to have more of a throughline or at least a fair amount more exploration to allow audiences to grasp this somewhat shocking perspective that comes to be the side of the prism Corbet sees his film through.
All of that said, it must say something for a film to be so internally divisive so as to not even be fully assured of where one ultimately lands in overall opinion of the film days after seeing it. I still don't know if I liked “Vox Lux” or not, but I know I'm still thinking about it and I know "Wrapped Up" continues to give me chills every time I listen to it-which has been damn near constantly since I walked out of the theater.
I need to see this again. Immediately.