Friday, December 7, 2018

Movie with Abe: Vox Lux

Vox Lux
Directed by Brady Corbet
Released December 7, 2018

When there are disturbing events happening in the world, it is common to see them reflected in movies and television. Even if art is not inspired directly by life, themes presented in fiction usually do find some source in fact. Replaying harrowing experiences on screen can be triggering, and the response to unsettling dramatizations is often that things have happened too recently and the wounds remain fresh. That concept can be taken a step further when tragedies are used in an exploitative manner, to tell a story that, without the invocation of an impactful formative plot development, wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is only thirteen when she survives a school shooting in Staten Island. Her method of mourning involves songwriting, which turns into an incredible musical career bolstered by her manager (Jude Law) and sends her all around the world with her sister Ellie (Stacy Martin). A decade and a half later, Celeste (Natalie Portman) is no longer recognizable, a pop star who has been irreversibly transformed by the world in which she lives, mother to a teenage daughter (also played by Cassidy) and barely able to stay sober and polite for even one performance.

The term “trigger warning” could well be applied to a good portion of this film, starting with its opening scene, in which the school shooting is shown in relatively graphic detail. Another such event occurs at the start of the film’s second act, prompting the adult Celeste to be peppered with questions about whether a terrorist attack in Europe might be connected to her music and her image. Conflating these two notions feels inappropriate, especially since this film seems to imagine a world in which mass shootings do not happen with the same saddening regularity that they do in contemporary America. They are so central to this film’s story that it can’t be digested or understood without wondering what the reason for their inclusion might have been, since there are more than enough other reasons for Celeste’s innocence to be corrupted and lost.

The tone of this film, which presents itself in several acts and with a puzzlingly existent narrator, Willem Dafoe, is all over the place, shifting from heartbreaking to intense and intimate to featuring a lavish concert that serves little purpose other than to see this pop star perform. Beginning with its entire credits sequence immediately after its opening scene is questionable and unexplained, as if demonstrating all that it plans to accomplish right at the start. Portman has received awards buzz for what certainly represents playing against type, but the result is often cringe-worthy. Cassidy, who for some reason portrays both the young Celeste and her daughter, delivered a far more compelling performance with less unsuccessful accent work in the equally unnerving yet somehow still more appealing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Actor Brady Corbet serves as writer and director of this project in the latest step of his recent foray into filmmaking, and this problematic portrait represents a vexing misstep that doesn’t net nearly enough value to make up for its displeasing content.


No comments: