Brady Corbet’s second directorial effort, Vox Lux, is my first exposure to his work behind the camera, and while it is very big in it’s drama, it sucks you in all the same.
Labeled a “Twenty-First Century Portrait” Corbet’s film follows the rise of pop mega-star, Celeste. Celeste is a fictional character, but one of her obvious inspirations might be currently starring in another movie about a musician’s rise, and her genesis of stardom comes in the most unlikely of places; a school shooting. While that might seem abhorrent in today’s day & age, or maybe we wouldn’t give a fuck because we are so numb to these travesties, I think it works in this timeline as it is in a pre-Columbine world. Celeste’s rise to stardom is over a song she and her sister write and perform for a memorial service, and I can totally buy something like this bringing a nation together. The idea of managing and turning her into pop-superstar might be a bit more 2018.
Regardless of her genesis, what follows is a compelling look at a girl navigating a heightened and anything is possible world, that, as a fourteen year old, will have lasting effects on Celeste for years to come. That is where our jump comes in, after 9/11 (like I said, big feelings) and another shooting, where we catch up with Celeste sixteen years later, about to launch her big regenesis album. Some relationships have lasted, some have fallen apart, and some are brand new for us viewers, but the film’s focus on Celeste, her sister Ellie and her manager is the through line we stick with.
This is also where Natalie Portman comes in to play as Celeste and she just blows everyone off the screen. Yes, the performance is BIG and brash, but it’s also compelling as hell as we catch up on the years that have passed since Celeste’s breakout and all of the shit she’s dealt with. Portman can be one of our best actresses and she shows us another side of herself here. The fragility we often associate with her is here, but it is under the surface of all of this raw energy and anger that bubbles on the surface. Portman is a whirlwind, in a good way, and I wish we had gotten a bit more of her in the film, as she is contained to the back half.
Playing Celeste in the younger portion of the film is Raffey Cassidy, who does a fine job, but gets a bit lost in the accent. Her stand out moment as Celeste is her recounting a dream, Corbet taking it in all in close to one long take, but I feel like she is better in the role as Celeste’s daughter once we flash forward. It’s a pretty brilliant piece of casting by Corbet, as we are constantly reminded of who Celeste was, but Cassidy still makes a character that feels new and separate. Cassidy is one of our better young actresses and this is another feather in her cap.
Jude Law also deserves special mention, as I think he is pretty fantastic as Celeste’s manager. He sort of only has one speed in the part, but he nails every second he is on screen. I feel like I haven’t seen this performance out of him yet, and it was a joy to watch. Stacy Martin is a bit understated as Ellie, but she is convincingly broken by being in the shadow of her little sister; especially with her being also the key to her success. I feel like we should have a bit more between her and Portman, but maybe Corbet was probably drawn away from her less heightened performance?
Corbet as a director feels raw, but inspired, and he impress throughout. He is always going for it, and you can’t fault him for it as he never blows it. I think he should have brought someone else in to shoot the concert footage, this supposedly most exciting moment feels the least energetic, but most of the time I was drawn into his images. A couple of cool montages here, a few long takes there, fantastic narration by Willem Dafoe sprinkled throughout, Corbet’s definitely got something; I still think he might have a better movie or two in front of him.
Vox Lux will turn some people off, I’m sure of it. But get on Corbert’s level of emotion and you will be treated to an often mesmerizing movie. Portman is a lot of fun, as is Law, and Corbert shows he might be on the verge of becoming a pretty great director. A compelling character study through and through, with some exhilarating imagery and catchy songs in the end. I liked it quite a bit.