*In a year in that has already given us “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Neon has just released “Vox Lux” and presented it as a music-centric film that deals with important issues.
Not that the film is all bad. In fact, half of it actually does deliver something fresh before going downhill.
That part of the film centers on teenage sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Eleanor “Ellie” Montgomery (Stacy Martin). When Celeste is shot in the neck during a school shooting that kills many of her classmates, she sings at a remembrance ceremony and the song becomes a national sensation. This catapults the sisters into stardom, with Celeste’s career skyrocketing and drawing the attention of a passionate manager (Jude Law) determined to take her ever higher.
Pop worship. #VoxLux is now playing. https://t.co/ZSqvgs5DGt pic.twitter.com/dp2SRRJHc1
— Vox Lux (@VoxLuxMovie) December 20, 2018
This part of the film is fresh and powerful. In the scenes in which she is portraying Celeste as a 13-year old recovering from her injury and overcoming her fears, Cassidy gives an extremely strong, raw and emotional performance.
Martin as her sister and best friend is equally as good and Law’s manager complements them perfectly.
Its tale of personal trauma and loss of innocence and the need to persevere takes on a broader context when juxtaposed against 1999 New York, where we see the Twin Towers still standing and their reactions to the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
For this part of the film, it looks destined to be Oscar-worthy.
Then, the bottom falls out.
As we flash forward to 2017, we see a now 31-year-old Celeste – played with an almost campy quality by Natalie Portman – preparing for a massive concert while dealing with the media fallout of a terrorist attack using her own iconography from a music video.
While the first half of the film handled serious issues with aplomb, we now get a Celeste who is foul-mouthed, drug addicted, a bad mother and just obnoxious and irresponsible.
By jumping so far ahead instead of letting us see Celeste evolve – or devolve – in this way, the change in looks and personality are as jarring as the horrible accent Portman decides to use.
A “takes-no-prisoners performance” by Natalie Portman. – @RollingStone
Now playing. https://t.co/ZSqvgs5DGt pic.twitter.com/fpKwIYJyEE
— Vox Lux (@VoxLuxMovie) December 17, 2018
All the nuance is gone now. Everything is loud and clichéd – Portman’s Celeste is bombed before a show and does her best imitation of a self-destructive imitation of Judy Garland.
Therein lies the problem with “Vox Lux”. Once Portman appears, everything seems fake or a pale imitation of better films, while discarding the elements that were making this film unique.
The sisters have grown distant, the caring manager is now sleeping with Celeste and, in a very odd move, Celeste’s daughter is also played by Cassidy, which at times makes you think she’s talking to her younger self’s aunt rather than her mom.
Also, Celeste’s iconography is never fully defined. We never really know what it symbolizes. So, the idea of terrorists using her iconography, therefore, loses all power.
In the end, “Vox Lux” is like a football team that is winning at halftime 35-0 and manages to lose the game by three touchdowns.
This film will be competing for Razzies, not with “A Star Is Born” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” for Oscar gold. It is one of the worst films of the year.