This review was originally published as part of our Venice Film Festival coverage on 05/09/2018.
Brady Corbet’s fascination with power and influence – so evident in his blistering debut about authoritarianism, The Childhood of a Leader – continues into his second feature about a beloved pop star, suggesting that the only logical step for his third film is surely religion. In telling this tale of irresistible attraction, Corbet himself has made something irresistible, an astoundingly confident and engrossing movie.
Vox Lux chronicles the rise to stardom of Celeste, played as a teenager by Raffey Cassidy and as an adult by Natalie Portman. It is a classic ‘dark side of fame’ story, but never rote – the worst of Celeste’s addiction problems and lifestyle mistakes has already come and gone by the time we meet her as an adult. The utterly astonishing first act lays out what her singing career has helped her escape and overcome, though the less said about it the better, as its power to shock is extraordinary.
Both Portman and Cassidy are sensational, and if Vox Lux’s overt weirdness doesn’t put too many voters off, this could be Portman’s chance at a second Oscar. Celeste has built up years worth of defense mechanisms, and Portman’s ability to shed and rebuild these facades on the fly is amazing to watch.
Corbet knows exactly what he’s doing, already more confident as a director than most with far, far more experience. He never puts a foot wrong with either the visuals or the music, and he deploys Willem Dafoe’s narration with surgical precision, making Celeste’s story feel like the story of modern America.
Any film where Dafoe solemnly counts us down into a Sia song is pretty much guaranteed to be a classic on that merit alone. But when it’s backed up by stellar, ambitious directing and an insightful script unafraid to take risks, it’s one of the best films of the year.
CAST: Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Ehle
DIRECTOR: Brady Corbet
WRITER: Brady Corbet
SYNOPSIS: An unusual set of circumstances brings unexpected success to a pop star.