The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Vox Lux

Vox Lux is a movie that makes you ask the question, Why am I supposed to care about any of this? An exercise in style over substance, it always seems on the verge of starting to go somewhere, without ever actually doing it. You can't deny that it's an interesting film visually, and the lead performance is convincing. The overly-eccentric tone and lack of any meaningful emotional hook undermine those things, though, leading to an experience that's annoyingly empty.

The story opens with a graphic school shooting -- not exactly something worthy of being played for entertainment. One of the students injured is Celeste (Raffey Cassidy). She sings a song at a memorial service for those slain, becoming a national phenomenon in the process. Jude Law plays the manager who gets her a record deal and transforms her into a pop star.

At the 53-minute mark, Vox Lux abruptly reinvents itself. We follow Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) as she attempts to launch a comeback tour following a personal scandal. She also deals with the fact that some terrorists have opened fire on a crowded beach, while wearing masks inspired by one of her music videos. Celeste fights with her songwriter sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin), spars with a music journalist (Christopher Abbott), and has a breakdown in front of her daughter. The last twenty minutes are an extended concert sequence. Celeste's songs are supposed to be popular; in reality, they're awful, despite being written by Sia. The end.

Vox Lux is an exercise in being avant garde simply for the sake of being avant garde. Shot in an uncommon aspect ratio, the film puts its credits scroll at the beginning rather than the end (although it has a second credits scroll there, too). Willem Dafoe occasionally provides narration, giving lengthy orations about aspects of Celeste's life that would be far more interesting to see dramatized. Footage that has either been slowed down or sped up accompanies his monologues. Writer/director Brady Corbet additionally relies on long, talky scenes that wear down one's patience with their lack of anything legitimately compelling. All of these elements combine to prevent the viewer from connecting with the story. Everything about the film seems designed to call attention to itself, to an off-putting degree.

The intent of Vox Lux, I would guess, is to examine the nature of fame. However, the movie doesn't say anything new on that subject. The public is fickle, fans are annoying, and it's difficult to hold on to superstardom for a long time. We already know that, as did the many other pictures about celebrity that have preceded this one. The use of gun violence, meanwhile, is disturbing, since the film merely uses it as a gimmick, rather than exploring it.

The main draw is Natalie Portman, who has never played a role like Celeste before. She changes her look and voice to the point where you easily forget it's her. The actress does her own singing and dancing, too, while giving Celeste a fierce attitude that belies her obvious emotional damage. She's great.

She also deserves a much better movie, with more going on and a plot that doesn't just meander around for two hours before an abrupt ending that resolves nothing.

( 1/2 out of four)

Vox Lux is rated R for language, some strong violence, and drug content . The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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