Not much to say about this one. I’ve seen the name crop up a few times in researching upcoming films, but knew next to nothing about what the movie was actually about. Hell, it was only recently in the last couple weeks that I even saw a trailer for the film.

The movie looks like it’s about a singer who is disturbed and pretty spoiled, and is also a mother to a teenager.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Natalie Portman (ANNIHILATION [2018], SONG TO SONG [2017], JACKIE [2016], THOR [2011] and DARK WORLD [2013], Star Wars EPISODE I [1999], II [2002], and III [2005], and upcoming films THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JOHN F. DONOVAN [2019] and PALE BLUE DOT [2019]), Jude Law (FANTASTIC BEASTS 2 [2018], KING ARTHUR [2017], SPY [2015], SHERLOCK HOLMES [2009] and GAME OF SHADOWS [2011], and upcoming films CAPTAIN MARVEL [2019] and THE RHYTHM SECTION [2019]), Raffey Cassidy (TOMORROWLAND [2015]), and Stacy Martin (ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD [2017], and upcoming films ARCHIVE [2019] and HALO OF STARS [2019]). 

In support, we have Christopher Abbott (FIRST MAN [2018], IT COMES AT NIGHT [2017], and WTF [2016]), Jennifer Ehle (CAMERON POST [2018], and upcoming films THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN [2019] and THE WOLF HOUR [2019]), and Willem Dafoe (ETERNITY’S GATE [2018], THE GREAT WALL [2017], FINDING DORY [2016], JOHN WICK [2014], and upcoming films AQUAMAN [2018] and THE LIGHTHOUSE [2019]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have Brady Corbet, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Composing the score is Scott Walker, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Lol Crawley, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Matthew Hannam, known for WILDLIFE (2018), IT COMES AT NIGHT, and SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)

Overall, this movie really wants me to believe that it’s somehow some deep, artsy, even weird film. But honestly, it looks like it’s just Portman trying to act like a spoiled celebrity. While I’m certainly excited to see some names on here, like Raffey Cassidy, who might have been one of the best parts of TOMORROWLAND, but I don’t think this movie is going to be all that great. We’ll see, I suppose.

This is my honest opinion of: VOX LUX

(SUMMARY)

The story follows follows famed (fictional) singer Celeste Montgomery as a teenager pre-fame (Raffey Cassidy), and her survival of a school shooting that inspired the song that eventually shot her to stardom in 1999, and then as an adult (Natalie Portman) in 2017 at the height of her popularity and at her most emotionally volatile on the eve of a concert amidst a terrorist shooting.

(REVIEW)

Well… this exists. I don’t think it’s very good, but it’s not without its qualities, I suppose.

I think it’s best to put in a disclaimer that this movie is basically divided into two halves. The first half of the movie is about Celeste as a teenager and a rising star, the second is with Natalie Portman. More directly, this movie is tagged at one hour and fifty minutes, and it’s literally divided into two separate stories that barely pertain to each other. So if you’re here to see Portman be amazing, it’s not going to happen until an hour in to the flick. Y’all been warned.

Let’s talk about the first half. I admit, the movie starts off well with holding my attention. A school shooting. I’m cautious, as America has been plagued with mass shootings this year. What are we at, 154? The point is, this movie needed to be either really poignant, or it was going to be as insensitive as a movie could get. The point is, I wanted to know where this movie was going to go with this. Turns out, it wasn’t either. This was a fictional school shooting, but it served as a platform Celeste’s future. To be clear, it’s shown that Celeste is a victim of the shooting as well. She got shot, had to go to physical therapy, and in her trauma and grief, she and her sister wrote a song for the victims. The song caught the ear of a music manager (Jude Law), and through lame expository narration via a way-too-sensible Willem Dafoe, we’re told that the song became a huge hit and essentially becoming the voice of everyone who was and wasn’t involved. They make a record with Celeste and her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin), go on tour overseas, get wild and crazy, Eleanore sleeps with Jude (he has no name that I caught, so I’m just going to call him Jude), and that’s pretty much it for that.

So there are some issues with this first half. For one thing, the song that supposedly shoots Celeste into stardom is wholly forgettable. For a song that supposed to speak for a nation in mourning, it wasn’t that good. But that’s personal taste. I can appreciate that this had its heart in the right place and that Celeste wasn’t trying to become famous with this song. She just wanted to contribute some measure of comfort to her community and it inadvertently shot her into the stratosphere. It could have been a whole lot worse. With that said, that also implies that it could have been a whole lot better. For one thing, narration has very rarely been necessary in films, and this movie is not an exception. In the opening, Dafoe tells us that Celeste became one of the most popular music artists in the world. Yet, through the events that unfold in the movie itself, we already get shown this. Motion picture is a visual art form. We don’t need the information spoon-fed to us, thank you.

Perhaps I spoke prematurely. There is one moment that I needed spoon-fed information for. The movie opens its new scenes with names, like “Act 1: The First Act.” Something like that. These look like:

Prelude
1999

Act I: Genesis
2000 – 2001

To put my concern in perspective, the prelude scene is the school shooting. People die, shooter kills himself, cops show up, and that’s it for that, then transitions to Act I. Except here’s the thing, the movie basically opens up on Celeste in physical therapy, then the next scene is her in a hospital bed with a neck brace, and her sister crying on her bed, begging for forgiveness for having not been there during the attack. Well, wait… hold on a second, the attack happened in 1999 and they’re only now having this conversation?! Isn’t this something that happens almost directly after attacks? Not a year later? Unless someone’s going to try and explain it off, like, the shooting happened on December 31, 1999, and this conversation happened in the first or second week of January, then I might understand that, but the frame of time is not made clear, so it just looks like Eleanor waited a year to say how bad she felt, and that the families waited a year to bury their children. Yeah, that’s what happens after the hospital scene. Celeste and Eleanor go to a victim’s funeral. Again, I need a better sense of passage of time, yo!

With all that said the acting is… fair. I don’t think this is going to go down in anyone’s filmography as their big break, but they work well with what they have. Although I have to question why Celeste has a different accent from the rest of her family. For whatever reason, Celeste has a New York accent, but neither Ellie, nor Albertine (Cassidy) sport one. So… what gives? Just for the fuck of it? Weirder choices have been made in films, but still… why?

Now how about that second half? Well… it’s probably more accurate to say that another movie interrupts. AMERICAN ASSASSIN to be precise. HOLY SHIT, I’m barely even joking! No, the opening to AMERICAN ASSASSIN is a terrorist shooting on a beach and that’s the opening to this movie! Seriously, internet, we need theories to tie these movies together! We really don’t, but I need to have fun with this movie if my interest in writing about it is going to hold up.

Terrorists wearing masks inspired from one of Celeste’s first music videos, and now we see older Celeste, who is this bitter celebrity just trying to spend time with her daughter as the media constantly hounds her for a statement. Honestly, this is probably the worst of the film’s two narratives as it feels totally broken. That’s the true crime of the movie: it’s unfocused. What is this movie trying to be about? Survival trauma? The dangers of fame at an early age? Balancing fame and family? The struggles of what to say when you’re loosely linked to a terrorist attack? This movie is all over the place and never really comes together.

One of the first major jarring things is that Cassidy returns… but this time playing Celeste’s teen daughter, Albertine. As I previously stated, she doesn’t sport a New York accent. So yes, in one half of the movie, Cassidy plays younger Natalie Portman… only to return to the movie as Natalie Portman’s daughter… sans an accent, as well as a very stereotypical tough-girl look, clad in heavy smokey-eye shadow, ripped jeans, and a leather jacket. It was almost comical. But never mind that, want another dip into the confusion sauce? You better be because I’m dipping you in there. Stacy Martin plays Celeste’s older sister Eleanor in the first half, but get this, she also appears in the second half… still playing Eleanor the older sister. Raise your hand if you think someone in the casting department needs to get have their credentials checked. To put it into perspective, Portman is (currently) thirty-seven years old, and Martin is (currently) a full decade younger, and yet we’re expected to believe that she’s older than Portman. Look, don’t get me wrong, Portman looks like she could play Celeste’s thirty-one year old character, but Martin does not look like she’s in her late-thirties, encroaching on forties. Just saying. And in a world where we made Brad Pitt look like an old baby, this could have been an easy fix. But… nope, lazy filmmaking here.

There’s also weird little subplots sprinkled in. Like, Albertine proclaims that she’s worried about her mom for forgettable reasons. She goes downhill in terms of her patience with the media, a reporter asking personal questions, her sister’s affair with Jude, a near drug-fueled performance on stage, and then… eh, she’s okay. She’s singing her songs, Eleanor and Albertine are dancing, roll credits. I… have no idea what the hell just happened either.

Overall, I have no idea what this movie was. I want to believe that it’s commentary on being a celebrity on par with Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, or something. But once you throw in school shootings and terrorist plots into the mix, suddenly your movie needs to be saying a whole lot more than “being a celebrity is hard.” This is not the case. Again, I don’t blame the actors. Portman, Cassidy, and even Martin do have their moments here and there, Portman looking pretty damn good as an eccentric pop singer, but the entire package is way too jumbled for its own good for that to mean much. As a recommendation, I would say this is a pass. If you have to see it, wait for it to come out as a rental, but I promise that this movie isn’t going to leave you with anything. Could have been so much worse, but it’s still not a good movie.

My honest rating for VOX LUX: a weak 3/5

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