TIFF 2018: Vox Lux

Natalie Portman in Vox Lux. Courtesy of TIFF.

Led by one of the best performances of Natalie Portman’s career, Vox Lux follows one woman as she sings her way into stardom and beyond.

When we first meet her in 1999, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy, as the younger version) is just like any ordinary student in school.  This is until one student, Colin, becomes very aggressive and practically shoots the entire class.  While Celeste lives, she suffers from an awful spinal injury as a result.

As Celeste begins to recover, she sings at a memorial service for the victims.  All it takes is one song to give her a national spotlight as record labels come calling.  She does this with his sister, Eleanor (Stacy Martin), and manager (Jude Law).  Things are going great until she catches the two of them in the act.  The latter of which just happens to take place during the worst attack on American soil.  Shortly thereafter, the film jumps ahead to 2017.

This is when we meet Celeste (Natalie Portman) in her early 30s.  She’s a mother to Albertine (Raffey Cassidy, in a dual role).  We can see how Celeste’s celebrity has taken a toll on her daughter but also herself.  As with anyone, Celeste has hit ups and downs.  She’s return to her hometown to launch a sixth album, Vox Lux, but there are questions about canceling the show.  This is because of a terrorist attack where the shooters are dressed in masks similar to an earlier music video.

In exploring the mother-daughter relationship, writer-director Brady Corbet shows the psychological toll that Celeste suffers as a result of fame.  It can get pretty brutal to say the least.  It shows a different side of Portman than we’ve ever seen on screen, including her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan.  A meal at a restaurant with her daughter should be simple, right?  When the manager asks her for a photo, things get way out of hand.  This is what fame has done to Celeste.  For someone as famous as her, she should have at least had some kind of security join them instead of going in without any at all.

Even though Natalie Portman is the first-billed actor, she doesn’t show up for a good hour into the film.  This is because the film focuses on the younger Celeste during the first hour.  When Portman does show up, she is as good as she’s ever been!  I don’t know where I’d rank it in her filmography but it’s there with her performances in Jackie and Black Swan.  In watching how Celeste behaves, I can’t help but think that Corbet was inspired by a long-ago appearance on Saturday Night Live, much less the sequel.

The film benefits from Sia’s original songs in addition to Scott Walker’s score–not that Scott Walker!  The film’s third act and climax alone may just be one of 2018’s cinematic achievements.  Where Teen Spirit was the crowd-pleaser playing Toronto, Vox Lux is the film that shows us all the guts and glory that come with fame.

We can view Vox Lux as a way of showing how the media turns celebrities into cultish figures.  Can you imagine a film like this with Taylor Swift front-and-center?  I’m honestly having a hard time doing so.

DIRECTOR:  Brady Corbet
CAST:  Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Jennifer Ehle, and Raffey Cassidy

Vox Lux held its North American premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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