FILM: Vox Lux
Written by Annie Junor
In the light of the acclaimed recent releases A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper), and Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer), Vox Lux (Brady Cobert) has a lot to live up to in the vein of musical dramas. Though it boasts wonderful aesthetics and fantastic performances, Vox Lux as a whole loses its footing with an inconsistent and self-detached storyline.
Vox Lux considers the links between pop music and terrorism via the experiences had by Celeste, played by Raffey Cassidy ( The Killing of a Sacred Deer ) and Natalie Portman, as a victim of a school shooting that rises to fame after singing a song she writes with her sister at a memorial service. Supported by her sleazebag manager played by Jude Law (who in fact is aptly only credited as “manager”), Celeste’s life quickly becomes a jump from childhood to adulthood at age fourteen.
The incredibly engaging first half of the film is carried on the talented shoulders of Raffey Cassidy as a fourteen-year-old Celeste, forced to grow up. The first half of the film is at its core, Celeste’s unsettling transition from adolescence to adulthood, not through aging but through exposure to adult life, neutralised and allowed because of the suffering that Celeste endured early in her life. Her loss of innocence quite literally mirrors the loss of innocence in the world around her – particularly considering she has her first sexual experience the day of the September 11 attacks. Cassidy’s unnervingly distant tone and matter-of-fact manner of speech (reminiscent of her performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer ) lasts the entirety of her performance. She captures the corruption of Celeste’s youth with extraordinary skill considering her young age and is most definitely the strongest performance of the cast.
However equally visually striking the second half of Vox Lux is, it fails to meaningfully connect with any setup from its first half, and the fact that Portman’s terrible New York accent presents itself in the second half does not help this disconnect at all. The tone of the film remains equally sombre and dark, but the pacing slows to what feels like a jolting stop considering the first hour of the film covers the space of a few months of Celeste’s life, compared to the second half depicting the occurrences of a single afternoon. It hardly touches what has happened in the sixteen-year time jump between when we last saw Celeste and what we see now. We see a bitter, messy woman who the world seems poised against and we can assume that fame has destroyed her, but we don’t see exactly what brought her all the way to where she is now, and I think that disconnect is where this movie fails. On a separate note, Cassidy also appears in the second half as adult Celeste’s daughter Albertine. I cannot surmise Cobert’s reason for Cassidy to appear as another character – apart from potentially giving her more screen time to shine, which I full-heartedly support.
The stunning shots and sequences must be accredited to the talents of Lol Crawley ( Black Mirror: Crocodile ). The work of the set design, makeup and costuming team must also be applauded for the incredible blue palettes and extravagant world that is created around Celeste.
As I learnt before entering the cinema, Vox Lux has a complete original motion picture soundtrack, predominantly composed by artist Sia Furler, who also produced the film. The fact that the soundtrack was guided by her ear is evident from the first performance in the film, which unfortunately acts a sort of distraction. Because I knew Sia had written the pieces, especially the early songs written by Celeste and her sister, the performances gave off a sense of manufactured amateurism. It was clear that a skilled writer was writing them, pretending that they were not skilled at all. In some of Portman’s performances you can literally hear Sia’s actual vocals either supporting or dubbed over Portman.
Despite not having a romantic storyline, Vox Lux shares many references with A Star is Born , which I can’t help but connect together considering the closeness of their releases. An emergent star who becomes a hit overnight with an original song, who eventually writes pop music instead of focusing on the real problems. Celeste and her dance group’s final costumes particularly hark back to a Fame Monster -era Gaga, with extravagant sci-fi pop anthems and costumes. Celeste also deems her fans “angels”, reminiscent of “monsters” used as a nick-name for Gaga’s fans, who too are encouraged to be wholly themselves.
Vox Lux is stunning piece of visual art that showcases fantastic performances from its main cast. However, changes in pacing, the large jump in time and the sheer absence of Cassidy as the main character culminates in a second half that seems disjointed from its first.