Vox Lux

Vox Lux ★★

Starts strong with a truly chilling opening section carried by Raffey Cassidy's very good performance, but descends into half-baked character drama and overwrought pop culture commentary after Natalie Portman takes over.

The clumsily used voiceover leaves so many moments, most notably the final line, completely impactless. Sometimes providing purely utilitarian exposition and sometimes spoonfeeding details about the inner lives of the characters, it makes the movie feel confused about its scope – Vox Lux stumbles between being an intimate character study and a portrait of a larger-than-life figure as she is perceived by those around her, achieving neither.

I guess the liberal use of narration seems like an attempt to fix the questionable structure; the movie feels like two acts of a standard three-act plot followed by an epilogue. The timeskip makes the whole feel far too disjointed, largely due to Portman's noticeably worse, unbearably deranged performance failing to feel like a continuation of the same character. Many first- and second-act plotlines, including the thematic link between Celeste's music and horrifying acts of violence, go nowhere since the finale is so laser-focused on its own thing.

I also can't help but feel like the film's thoughts about culture end up being fairly shallow and that its conception of pop music as contentless fun was already somewhat dated by 2018. Like, did poptimism not happen? Do contemporary audiences and critics not view pop stars like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey as genuine artists with things to say instead of just escapism machines? Well, don't trust my word on this, I'm not really a pop guy, but it does feel like Vox Lux would have been more accurate in its depiction of pop if the modern section had been set 10 years earlier. At least the original songs feel successfully bland and boring to listen to.

While there are a lot of good visual choices and singular fantastic moments in it, as a whole, Vox Lux has a great opening followed by nothing but atmosphere and vibes. A post-epilogue where Anthony Fantano reviews the titular fictional album would have saved it.

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