TIFF Review: Vox Lux

Score: B+

Director: Brady Corbet

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Stacy Martin, Raffey Cassidy

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rated: NR

“We’ll pray together.”

In large part a social commentary on today’s times, Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux is a compelling portrait of the 21st century, told by way of a school shooting, a pop star’s emergence, and Natalie Portman’s dark and gritty take on a troubled diva.

Vox Lux follows our lead protagonist Celeste between the years 1999 and 2017.  It is her story that drives the film as she shockingly survives a school shooting, and steals the hearts of the world with her performance at the memorial.  As she transforms from a naive young survivor into a woman struggling to survive herself, she is forced to combat the physical and emotional pains that come with such a tragic incident and sudden rise to notoriety.

Told in chapters and bearing an eerie, stripped-down presentation style a la Lars von Trier, Vox Lux is a unique film with a dark and somber undertone.  Corbet does a brilliant job at crafting a story that doesn’t give away too much, allowing the viewer to process the visuals for themselves.  The social commentary is not hidden; however, those stuck within the confines of the stereotype will likely have a difficult time putting that side of the story together - the beauty here lies within the fluidity of the storytelling.

Raffey Cassidy does a phenomenal job as young Celeste.  The film begins with a prologue - or prelude, to follow the exact wording that appears on the screen - taking us through a tragic 1999 school massacre that leaves Celeste’s homeroom teacher and fellow music students laid horrifically to waste by a lone shooter.  Celeste should have died as well.  She was the first of the students to feel a bullet catch flesh.  However, she doesn’t. Instead, she uses her survivor instinct to capture the heart of the public with a beautifully self-penned song that she sings at the memorial. 

Cassidy takes us all the way through the first chapter (“Genesis”), allowing us to follow her as she hires a manager, records a demo, takes dance lessons, and travels to Europe with her sister (Stacy Martin).  Cassidy takes Celeste through a plethora of events continually presenting a demeanor that matches that of Corbet: slow, steady, and to a certain degree, plain.  Celeste methodically progresses through the days without much thought, as if she were unaware of her impact on the story, merely surviving as a background player.  Young Celeste has no idea the power she possesses, naive in nearly all forms as she almost mindlessly navigates her way to the top of the charts.

While the first chapter began with an act of violence, it would seem almost inappropriate that the theme wouldn’t continue into the next (aptly titled “Regenesis”) - this time at a beach resort in Croatia where vacationers are gunned down by men wearing sequined masks from one of Celeste’s early videos.  The tie back brings everything full circle, showcasing a career that sprung out of terrorism, now being redefined by it.  All this on the day of her tour-launching concert in her hometown.  The news of the attack spreads fast, adding turmoil to the already sensitive situation.

Here is where Natalie Portman takes over.  To keep with the violent theme, we get a quick rundown of Celeste’s troubled past, her struggle to stay clean, and her accident that lead to a $13 million payout.  As Celeste handles the press, releases a statement in conjunction with the attack, and discusses her new album, we being to realize that her demeanor has become one that is distant, entitled, and disjointed from that of reality.

Gone is the girl we first met, replaced by a gorgeous diva with an addictive personality.  The character, though extensively troubled and shaken, is beautifully crafted by Portman who utilizes her physical presence to tell a full-fledged story.  From her uneven temperament to her inability to understand the results of her actions, she’s always on the defense, unable to ever catch a break.

It is here that the entertainment industry itself is on blast.  Refusing to play into the clichés that so many similar films have fallen victim to in the past, Corbet brings a sense of sophistication and understanding to the screen with Vox Lux.  Fortunately for him (and us), Portman and company understand his approach and offer up a sense of elegance to the controlled chaos; thus catapulting this film into indie stardom.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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