The Trainwreck That Was "Vox Lux"
In 2010, Natalie Portman starred in the Oscar winning film, Black Swan, which became an instant classic and is still fondly looked upon to this day. Eight years later, Portman would star in another movie about a tortured artist, whose success is hindered by her personal life and her own inner saboteur. This film was Brady Corbet's Vox Lux and unfortunately it was not anywhere near the same level as Black Swan. In fact, it was a full blown disaster that still polarizes audiences to this day. So let's take a look back at 2018's Vox Lux.
Vox Lux tells the story of child star turned pop icon, Celeste Montgomery, played by Natalie Portman. The movie follows her character as she prepares for a big, flashy concert. This entire time, she is dealing with intense backlash after a terrorist attack occurred in Croatia that was rumored to be inspired by one of her music videos. Celeste also has to deal with her strained relationship with her daughter, Albertine, and her debilitating alcohol addiction. Brady Corbet's Vox Lux is a film that deals with themes of corruption, internal struggle, and materialism...but just because a story has a deeper meaning does not mean it's good.
I was looking forward to watching Vox Lux for quite a long time, and my reaction is a lot more mixed than I thought it would be. I enjoyed a lot of the cinematography by Lol Crawley at least. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the random montage footage, my favorite thing about Vox Lux is probably how it’s filmed. I really didn’t like the presence of a narrator in this movie. Having a Willem Dafoe voiceover made it feel more like a Lars Von Trier film rather than, well...whatever this was. Vox Lux suffers from an inconsistent tone that can really take you out of the moment, almost like a...student film? Which is pretty much inexcusable coming from a director who had already worked on half a dozen films prior.
t took a while for me to realize but this movie reminds me sooooo much of Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, which is not a compliment. Despite having such a serious subject matter, Vox Lux has a tendency to feel really shallow at times, especially in the first act. There was a weird, forced monologue that comes out of nowhere and I was practically rolling my eyes at the screen the entire time. As far as writing goes, it tended to be pretty hit or miss. This might be a nitpick but at certain moments there are subtitles that are barely visible because of the color contrast, which could’ve been so easily avoided.
Speaking of the first act, it has my absolute least favorite part of this movie and that is Raffey Cassidy’s performance. I wanted to turn it off the television every time she was on screen, which surprised me because I thought she was decent in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But I’m now just realizing that she was only good in that because having an expressionless, monotonous tone only works in a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. Remind me to never come across this casting director ever again please. And the decision to cast her as the younger lead and later that same character’s daughter was so...confusing. It feels like the producers were just trying to save some extra cash. Speaking of bad acting performances, I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion but I did not enjoy Jude Law’s presence as the manager at all. It seemed like he was trying way too hard to embody his character but it just didn’t come naturally. Natalie Portman was pretty alright for the most part but her accent was honestly one of the worst I've ever heard. Her character in Black Swan also lived in New York City and didn't have a super annoying, terribly done accent so I have no idea where that came from. Despite how great of an actor she is, I truly don't think Natalie Portman was the best choice for the lead role. It might be a similar storyline to Black Swan but her performance felt very forced. Since her public image reflects her as being super put-together and impressive, I just have a really hard time picturing her as some drunk, unhinged pop star.
If there’s one thing I can say this film gets totally right it's the music. And I’m not talking about the vapid pop songs I mean the backing score by Scott Walker, which I absolutely loved. The rock concert scene was also well done and felt super immersive.
Despite being well filmed with a good soundtrack, Vox Lux lacks polish and a clear vision. A lot of this movie feels hastily put together, and almost like knockoff of The Neon Demon. I hope Brady Corbet and Natalie Portman make something much better in the future. God knows the bar isn't set high.