I tried to go with Brady Corbet’s second directorial feature Vox Lux. It seemed like he had something to say and had the tools of cinema with which to say it. There’s nothing unintentional about Vox Lux so this is exactly the movie Corbet intended to make, but we’re just not on the same wavelength.
As a teenager in 1999, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a school shooting. During her rehab from her gunshot injuries, she performs a song at the memorial which catches the ear of a record label and manager (Jude Law). Her career takes off just around 9/11 and by 2017, Celeste (now Natalie Portman) finds out that a trio of terrorists used masks from her music video to commit another shooting.
The opening shooting scene is harrowing and real, not gratuitous or exploitive. I mean, in real life it’s gratuitous that these mass shootings keep happening and they don’t get the luxury of framing out the gore or cutting away from the violence. Then the full credits scroll over the ambulances driving Celeste to the hospital.
There is a lot of strobing and abrasive sound, for art, man. I know Corbet wants to discomfort the audience, but it’s actually undermining his point. If you create intense drama, you don’t need to pound our ears at the same time. The abrasive score is more aggressive than the Inception tone.
I also have to question the music video that catapults Celeste to stardom. Did her video riding on a motorcycle driven by a glitter gimp play on MTV in 2001? She’s lucky she missed Beavis and Butt-Head by three years. And that’s the mask the terrorists decide to use. I shouldn’t mock the video that becomes the uniform of the shooters, but shouldn’t someone also address the absurdity of the terrorists’ choice?
Vox Lux wants to confront the issues that our leaders are ignoring, but but it buries the most significant points under its breath. The whole title Vox Lux is just the name of Celeste’s sixth album, which we hear about once in a narration. The narration also blames Celeste’s media outburst on the politicians who get away with such bravado. Well, in 2017 that’s Trump, but show us the connection between reality TV politics and Celeste. It’s more than the narrative can tackle so it’s shoehorned into the narration.
The second half of the movie is just like stop talking already. I get that Celeste has to do press the day of the terrorist attack and her concert, but maybe save the family drama for another day. In between interviews, Celeste takes her daughter (Cassidy again, sans the moles that identify her as young Portman) to lunch and has it out with her sister (Stacy Martin). It’s too. much. talking. Just be quiet for a few minutes.
That’s another issue. Cassidy playing both young Celeste and Celeste’s daughter is distracting. It’s obvious the moment she shows up, and it’s so on the nose about “oh, her daughter is really herself again.” Sins of the mother, yadda yadda yadda. Cassidy is great. It’s just a disservice to Celeste’s daughter to rob her of individuality.
Portman gives a bravura performance. She gives the character everything Corbet wanted, and she does a concert performance at hte end. So she’s not just acting the behind the scenes of being a rock star, she did three or four full songs. I’m not sure if the last one was actually two because they all sound like the same nn ts nn ts nn ts nn ts but the choreography and performance is on par with Rihanna.
So I fully support Corbet making his art and making his statements his way. It’s worth existing just for the concert finale alone. He makes movies, I write prose and you all get to decide which forms work for you. It’s all art, man.