Austin Film Festival 2018 Review: VOX LUX

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

For the festival’s opening night film, the programmers chose this rather interesting and unsettling film.  What makes this movie interesting is the way the story is presented.  However, when the film enters its final act, that is when everything goes south and ends on a bewildering note.  Writer/director Brady Corbet does attempt to ambitiously offer some biting commentary on modern society and nearly pulls it off.  Unfortunately, its messy third act seems as lost and aimless as the film’s protagonist.

The film begins with a horrible tragedy that dramatically changes the life of high school teen Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy). As Celeste recovers from both physical and mental wounds, she and her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) become inspired to write a song to help with the healing process.  This song and its performance by Celeste would instantly make her a celebrity and national hero.  As a result of this new fame, Celeste becomes a successful pop singer. Eighteen years later the adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) must contend with a new world tragedy that may or may not be inspired by her life and career.

Though Brady Corbet boldly pulls no punches when it comes to his first acts, his final one feels more like an utter cop out.  Though I see an attempt at commentary regarding the trappings of success and  the celebrity lifestyle, I feel that his film could have had a more powerful conclusion.  The whole affair ends so weakly and matter-of-factly that it seems like he didn’t really know how to drive his message home.

All writing problems aside, I do have to acknowledge how much I loved the way Corbet presents his story.  With great narration by Willem Dafoe, Corbet presents his movie like a fable with important messages. The cinematography by Lol Crawley is absolutely gorgeous and the score by Scott Walker certainly marvels.

As far as the cast is concerned, I was particularly impressed with actress Raffey Cassidy who not only portrays the young Celeste Montgomery, but also the adult Celeste’s teenage daughter Abertine.  As the adult Celeste, a train wreck of a celebrity diva, Natalie Portman acts her heart out, but occasionally overdoes it in the process.  She certainly has her moments of brilliance, but also some scenes of heavy affectations. The film also features good performances by Jude Law, Stacy Martin, and Jennifer Ehle.

There is no denying that Brady Corbet knows how to gorgeously and impressively present a movie.  His storytelling skills are quite obvious here, but it is the content and integrity of his story that is in question.  It is evident that the filmmaker has a bleak view of the modern world, but it is highly possible that it is a view too cynical for cinema. Well, at least that seems to be the case for this movie.

 

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