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TIFF Review: Vox Lux

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It happens every year – the one or two films that truly and distinctly divide audiences.  Look at last year’s mother! for a good example.  Love or hate, these are the movies that cause debate between friends and are often buzzed about enough that nominations come their way during awards season.  Vox Lux is one of these films.

Vox Lux tells the story of Celeste, a young girl who is involved in an unspeakable act of violence that just happens to propel her into the national spotlight when she sings a song at a televised memorial.  Willem Dafoe, who narrates the film tells us, “In the beginning, she was kind and full of grace,” which only foreshadows that Celeste is to become the opposite of this.  What starts as an incredible rise to fame, her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) by her side, quickly becomes a train wreck with Celeste later in life falling victim to addiction and becoming cruel, hardened and plagued by scandal.

The film is separated into distinct acts, with a younger Celeste being portrayed by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland).  At once innocent and outwardly demure she learns how to focus her traumatic experiences towards her stardom.  She holds her own in the film, especially against an incredible performance by Jude Law as her manager.  However once we get a glimpse of Celeste in her 30s, now played by Natalie Portman, we are presented with an over the top, crass, crude, unapologetic pop star.  It’s Portman as you’ve never really seen her, and while some have claimed she’s ‘overacting’ here, instead I see her getting inside a character that at this stage of her career would never hold back.  She is mesmerizing to watch.

The first twenty minutes of Vox Lux are not easy to view.  They are violent and visceral moments that are all too raw and realistic.  That visceral feeling never really seems to leave writer/director Brady Corbet‘s work here as he not only follows the life of Celeste but also provides a commentary on politics, media, and the changing landscape of such over the span of her career.  There is a complexity to Vox Lux that can be intimidating, but it is worth the watch.  And with singer/songwriter Sia having worked on the soundtrack, you can be at least assured a few good tunes will come your way.

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