Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: VOX LUX: Natalie Portman at Her Best [LFF 2018]

Natalie Portman Vox Lux

LFF 2018 Vox Lux Review

Vox Lux (2018) Film Review from the 62nd Annual London Film Festival, a movie directed by Brady Corbet, starring Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy, Jude Law, Stacey Martin, Jennifer Ehle, Willem Defoe, Maria Dizzia, Christopher Abbot, Meg Gibson and Daniel London.

This is a crazy experience of vicious energy, featuring a career-best performance by Natalie Portman. Vox Lux is an out-of-this-world, completely of the hook depiction of a 21-st century pop star. The film is directed with maddening style by Brady Corbet, who creates a breathless pace through editing and a careful selection of shots. The score is haunting, the color-palette – cold and dispiriting. The deep voice of Willem Defoe’s narration is as scary as it is over-the-top and funny. It’s a spectacular combination, which makes the film fly by, while providing the viewer with a somewhat-exhausting cinematic experience. Then again, tiring is also a good adjective for the realistically depicted lifestyle of the main character in this film.

The one trailer of Vox Lux basically shows nothing and this is a marketing decision, which really works when the lights in the theater go down. There was a moment in this film, 5 minutes in, when something so shocking happens that you will ask yourself if you have walked into the wrong screening. Revealing details would be a spoiler but it is safe to say that for the most part, this film surprises you on multiple levels. There is plenty of emotion and meaning on-screen. This is a story, depicting how crazy and progressively out of control a life can get on the way to the top and what it’s like to be up there. How and when can a celebrity of such vile magnitude find peace is not answered but after watching Vox Lux, viewers will likely feel that this is too big of a question to answer.

The film follows the character of Celeste – a star in the making at different stages of her life, starting with a traumatic incident in her childhood, going through her development as a singer and culminating with an extended section, depicting a day of her life as a full-grown, veteran pop star. The protagonist is portrayed by Raffey Cassidy as her younger self with startling conviction and by Natalie Portman, who is as brilliant and unhinged here as she has ever been, maybe more so. Jude Low delivers an outstandingly half-comedic, half-dramatic performance. Stacey Martin, Jennifer Ehle also get their small moments to shine.

Portman is Extraordinary

Natalie Portman’s performance in this movie will blow you away. Vox Lux will convince you she is one of the best actresses working today. Like the plot of the film, Portman’s screen-time has three distinct sections. The first one shows her on her feet, having regular dialogues with her family, team and the press. The second one depicts Celeste at her lowest, completely hopeless and under the influence of various substances. The third one shows her going out on the stage and performing several songs in their entirety in front of legions of fans.

Portman does all that in less than an hour of screen time. Needless to say, the Oscar-winner is believable in each and every one of those scenes. It is a tough job. She appears in the later half of the film, the one which is generally supposed to turn up the heat. That means that the acclaimed actress has to carry the film on her own in a way that will match the frenetic energy of the first half. She ends up being the best part of the film.

She specializes in the toughest type of roles – the ones, which require her to go over the top in extreme ways and yet, she manages to be real and completely convincing in every line and every dance move. As you watch Natalie Portman have mental breakdowns, adopt the self-confidence and tone of a self-indulged celebrity and dance, sing and own a crowd the way best-selling artists do nowadays on their worldwide tours, you will quickly come to terms with the fact that she was born to play the roles no else can.

Great Supporting Performances

Jud Low is initially unrecognizable with his low, deep, grumpy voice and bearded, cynical face. He is an awesome match for Celeste’s rebellious behavior and he gets plenty of entertaining and even endearing moments with both Cassidy and Portman. Speaking of Cassidy, she definitely holds her own when portraying Celeste’s younger self. She successfully channels the character’s sometimes annoying but mostly intoxicating confidence regardless if her life is in danger or if she is in the presence of lovers or friends.  Furthermore, the young actress gets a prolonged monologue scene, in which she is describing a recurring nightmare. In it her face becomes like a death mask and you get consumed by the fear in her look.

Solid Energetic Direction

Corbet’s direction needs to be on a high level in order for it to match the strength of his actors’ performances and he does it through a variety of tricks. Complicated fast-paced editing that moves the story forward, long takes of actors dancing, slow motion scenes, accompanied with cleverly placed narration all work quite efficiently. The cinematography is very raw and rough.

The imagery can’t really be called beautiful – everything feels very realistic and gritty. The soundtrack (apart from the original songs of Celeste) are straight up creepy and unnerving. There is an inherent madness to the lifestyle of these pop icons. Maybe it’s the endless string of attention, drama, efforts and drugs but whatever it is, Corbet successfully conveys it through sound and image.

An Engrossing Script with Many Positives

Vox Lux also has an insightful script, which can sometimes sound preachy but the film’s star is so good you won’t even notice it when it’s happening. The writing entertains, moves and educates in equal measure. The plot doesn’t have a regular construction. Viewers get to witness the main stages of the development of an artist with all the details, no more, no less. However, none of the contract signings, the recording sessions or the backstage preparations feel boring or unnecessary in any way. There is a constant feeling that you are watching something fresh and informative.

The dialogue is sharp and there is a lot of room for clever comebacks and funny jokes. That being said, never does the script forget to show the way Celeste keeps fighting so our inspiration from this talented girl that just won’t quit is always getting fueled. You will feel a certain detachment to these characters but unless you are a devoted fan, it’s difficult to fully empathize with such an outlandish lifestyle. However, there are a couple of moments in the film, when Portman is on-screen that take you by surprise and successfully grab you by the throat.

This is perhaps Vox Lux’s grandest achievement. In the few cases, when Corbet and Portman ask you to feel something real for Celeste, as if you are rooting for a friend, they succeed. You witness an almost completely insane story of people that go through way too much and ultimately, you don’t feel overwhelmed, even though maybe you should be. Natalie Portman’s transformation is so complete and her character as well as the world around her feel so authentic that even the regular viewer succeeds in stepping in the shoes of a star.

Rating: 8/10

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About the author

Deyan Angelov

My name is Deyan Angelov and I am 25. I have written articles for FilmBook. I graduated from the University of London, Royal Holloway in 2014. I have worked as an air operator, sound recorder and camera operator for different TV stations. I have participated in a variety of internships at Nu Boyana Film Studios.

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