This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Kern’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
It’s even better a second time around and it’s honestly the most inexplicable qualities that draw me to it. What Brady Corbet chooses not to show is as fascinating as what he does. I think the initial school shooting is pretty perfectly handled; it’s neither needlessly violent/cruel nor (figuratively or literally) bloodless. We’re placed in Celine’s shoes in that we only see the violence she sees, though the moment of her shooting is framed with her head-on to instill the same sense of shock she feels. I’m a shill for untraditional structures, which this film obviously plays to. In fact, so many elements are intended to disorient, it’s amazing the film ends up as beautiful and coherent as it does.
It begins on a bleakly violent moment then cuts to scrolling opening credits; there’s pointedly an absence of a traditional second act; the second half takes place in one day; the dialog is alternatingly theatrical and grounded, philosophical and vapid; the finale is a drama-free 15-minute performance that feels simultaneously removed from the rest of the film yet it wholly fits, like a culmination of the events we’ve witnessed; and then of course the film ends with silent closing credits. It’s completely understandable to think of these strange choices as arbitrary, meaningless, and pretentious, but I think they completely suit the narrative. Similarly, I understand thinking the film is simplistic thematically. Taking it as a critique of pop music, stardom, and fame is a valid interpretation, but one I find insanely reductive, if not entirely misguided. Corbet’s only intention is to display a juxtaposition between tragedy and popular culture; what you interpret from there is your own inference or projection of intention or thematic significance.
This is to say nothing of the drama, which is enthralling minute-to-minute; the second half especially feeling like peak Sorkin without all the eye-rolling Sorkinisms that usually tag along. Once again, it feels like watching real characters that are simultaneously vapid, energetic, profound, and most importantly, real. Though Celeste and her entourage are constantly performing (the accent going in and out; the most emotional moments feeling entirely overblown), they are still human. The finale works for me as a kind of abstract expressionism; we simply see the culmination of Celeste’s life and work. It’s an energetic display that’s shot relatively coldly, allowing the audience time to organize their thoughts, project their own meaning onto the film, just sit back and enjoy the performance, or impatiently wait for the damn pretentious montage to end (finally!). I think it’s an incredible film with plenty of narrative and thematic complexity that I’ll be unpacking for a long time to come.