By midlandsmovies, May 2 2019 12:00AM
Vox Lux (2019) Dir. Brady Corbet
Opening with a shocking scene of a school shooting that has to be seen to be believed, Brady Corbet’s new film Vox Lux tackles the pop music industry, crime, terrorism and the American dream in a film stuffed to the brim with ideas.
Too stuffed? Well, perhaps. We open in 1999 where sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Ellie (Stacy Martin) survive the massacre but during the memorial, Celeste showcases a poignant song about the incident which pushes her towards stardom in the USA. And she is soon head-hunted by a music mogul (a terrifically gruff Jude Law) and rises to fame in the industry.
Raffey Cassidy is a great lead and one of her most-famous scenes to date is from her previous outing in The Killing of a Sacred Deer where she delivers a darkly honest performance of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn”. Here she channels a similar tone and is one of many exciting aspects from the film’s first half. The striking school opening combined with the entire film credits at the start provides a violently dynamic beginning before the director throws in some home-video style footage of Raffey and her entourage on tour in Stockholm.
There is a lot of intensity and energy in its opening which is slightly at odds with its Willem Defoe narration and chapter titles (“Genesis”) which feel like a student facsimile of a cliché even Lars Von Trier would think twice about. Act 2 gets worse with the shockingly titled and awful “Re-genesis”. Quite.
However, as the young Celeste moves from tours, studio recording and on to videos the film is interspersed with iconic imagery reflecting media coverage of worldwide events and their effects. First is a terrorist beach atrocity featuring more guns and death as well as images of the World Trade Centre towers and then later the Freedom Tower.
And then the film takes a sharp turn. We jump to the modern day and Celeste is now played by Natalie Portman. Put through the mill of the music industry she now has a history of drink, drugs and more. Portman veers from her subdued and excellent performance in Jackie to a wayward pop-star jaded by the destructive capabilities of fame and money.
Celeste is now older, tiresome and somewhat of a cliché in this second half and unfortunately this is reflected in the film’s delivery too. Gone is the potency of Raffey’s rise to fame and in come some broad swipes at Western values, celebrity culture and the trappings of wealth. And for some unearthly reason – serving only to confuse - Raffey Cassidy is now playing Portman’s daughter. And much like most superhero films, learning the ropes is often a far more interesting story than when the hero is established and the same goes here.
As a musical drama, another problem is simply my personal taste in the music. Original songs by current pop star Sia are incorporated – although the 1999 music video is highly anachronistic with pitch-shifted vocals definitely not from that era – but I didn’t care much for its Bohemian Rhapsody-like 15-minute stage show ending.
In conclusion, and sounding far too much like a football pundit, Vox Lux is the epitome of a film of two halves. Its second half looking at how the music industry corrupts, Portman’s selfish alcoholic and extended concert finale just removed all the momentum the first half so successfully delivers. No doubt those with more than a passing interest in modern pop will also be moved by the musical hits more so than myself. Certainly containing huge amounts of filmmaking dexterity and Raffey Cassidy’s performance certainly should have taken centre stage, Vox Lux ultimately doesn’t so much as burn out as it does fade away.