NEON (2019)

 

Directors: Brady Corbet

 

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Stacey Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Raffey Cassidy, Willem Dafoe

Vox Lux…light voice? Voice of the light? My Latin isn’t good.

 

Brady Corbet’s musical drama Vox Lux is more than just a cool sounding title. It follows the musical career of Celeste, who, along with her older sister Ellie survived a school shooting in 1999, and were subsequently launched into stardom after composing a song about their experience. Decades later, Celeste is in a bad place personally (and has been for years) whilst preparing for a massive, career-defining/saving homecoming concert while dealing with the media fallout of a terrorist attack perpetrated by assailants using her own visual emblems.

It’s a story about fame and all of its pitfalls, pressures, stresses, and strains but also how warped the whole thing can be. One day you’re a schoolkid (in this case, Raffey Cassidy who also doubles as Celeste’s daughter later on), the next you’re a worldwide sensation with people queuing around the block just to sniff your scent. The unsubtle allusions to celebrity and terrorism and any potential links that pepper the entire screenplay are interesting as well. Vox Lux isn’t an immediate movie, it doesn’t quite clock two hours, however, there’s a very leisurely pace to the entire flick – even in its odd chaptered structure. That said, the introductory Columbine-esque scene is horrific. Horrific in the sense that it is so visceral, raw and brutal that it had me frightened and, frankly, on edge watching. It’s powerful stuff. Corbet takes the movie and narrative from here – accompanied by Willem Dafoe’s narration - and mutes it somewhat leading to the big finale. The finale that brings everything to a head - it’s well shot and showcases Celeste’s hollow songs that are withheld for the entire movie. Despite Celeste’s less-than-courteous attitudes and behaviours off-stage, onstage everyone laps it up, even those spurned by her despite everything she has done. What’s in-between is slightly less enticing. Nothing in Vox Lux is terrible, or even average, but the pacing and events are, at times, a bit boring. Corbet’s directing is largely languid and lacking energy which takes away from the better aspects of the movie – namely the visuals and performances.

 

Lol Crawley’s sharp capturing of the locations and imagery allow for a stark, sometimes overly polished, visual palette for the performances to rest upon. Natalie Portman is reliably good here. Looking at times like a cyberpunk Padme Amidala, she’s big, brash and fizzing with barely restrained fury complete with a Noo Yaaawk accent, her near-cartoonish Celeste is magnetic to watch. Backed by Sia’s words and music, she also sings all of her ‘own’ songs as well. Just as impressive, though, is Raffey Cassidy. In her roles as the young Celeste and, later, Celeste’s daughter Albertine she brings a real innocence and softness to the movie that flies in the face and the vacuous, bombastic nature of the industry.

 

Vox Lux jabs and pokes at the pop music industry in every way, shape, and form and provides some compelling questions and thought-provoking messages. The problem is – there’s something missing here. What Vox Lux needed was the certain spark that makes a pop song/star fly (the formula), but without it, it’s not quite as vital or hard-hitting as it could have been (though it isn’t a million miles away). Handily enough, it also works as a nice opposite to A Star Is Born, a movie released in close proximity but, make no mistake, the two are very different movies. Powered along by Portman and Cassidy, Vox Lux has a lot to say and, despite being very good in parts, misses out on its place at the top of the charts.

February 23rd 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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