Natalie Portman is on something of a hot streak right now: since dabbling in Star Wars adventures and doing her time in the lightweight rom-com world, the Oscar winner has not really put a foot wrong in recent years. Sure, some of her films have been somewhat forgettable, but her body of work has been exemplary. From Jackie (which, in any other year, would have seen her collect her 2nd Best Actress statuette) to Alex Garland’s criminally-underseen Annihilation, she’s been consistently brilliant but her latest film, Vox Lux, sees her tackle something altogether different: a mega pop-star in writer/director Brady Corbet‘s latest kaleidoscopic film.
However, before we wax lyrical about Postman’s latest masterclass, we have to do the same with Raffey Cassidy, the young British actress who steals the film in many ways. In 1999, a young Celeste (Cassidy) is caught up – and miraculously survives – a school massacre which sees many of her friends killed by a gunman. A startling, frank beginning for the film but the event sees Celeste catapulted to superstardom as a pop star after writing a memorial song for those lost in the attack. A meteoric rise to the top ensues and from tragedy springs success, as is the strange but fascinating way that fame works. Fast forward almost two decades and Celeste (played by Portman at 31) is on the road plugging her latest album with the world of fame and celebrity forever changed into the crazy, nonsensical way it has in the 21st century world. At the same time, the ever-rising fear and paranoia of terrorism, with Celeste having to deal with all over again when a new incident is somewhat linked to her on-stage persona.
Fair warning: Vox Lux is a difficult watch at times, pretty much right from the off. Corbet, who made the brilliant The Childhood of a Leader in 2015, pulls no punches here, showcasing every facet of the journey of Celeste in uncompromising, stark detail that for the most part keeps the film utterly perplexing and fascinating at the same time. He deconstructs human life through the lens of both eras (1999 wasn’t something of the beginning of where we are now) as well as how the world events, good and bad, shape both a person’s life and lives of those around them.
Indeed, using the life of a popstar and a celebrity to mould his vision is something of a masterstroke as it allows him to explore such themes through the prism of popularity, social media and how everything can be sold and spun. It doesn’t work all the time but it’s never anything less than absolutely fascinating. We have already mentioned the performances but it would be remiss not to do so again as Portman, Cassidy and Jude Law are all spectacular in the film and anchor it with both precision and a freedom that allows them to excel. Kudos too, to Willem Dafoe as the film’s narrator – and, let’s be honest, anything with Dafoe in it immediately becomes exciting.
While there will be moments through Vox Lux that will make you wince and feel shocked, for the most part the construction of the narrative is so precise and beautifully crafted that it’s never anything but compelling. Coupled with some astounding visuals and performances, this really is something special that should be seen by all.
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Drama, Music | USA, 2018 | 15 | 3rd May 2019 (UK) | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir. Brady Corbet | Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Raffey Cassidy