>> I can’t begin to tell you how many times I daydreamed of super-stardom as a kid. I would belt early 2000’s pop hits into my hairbrush, secretly wishing that someday my parents would put it on YouTube and I would be discovered similarly to how Justin Bieber was. As children, we all naively dream of stardom without truly understanding the pressures and consequences that seemingly follow. This year, Hollywood delivered two music-based films that both received mass amounts of hype, A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. I had many qualms about A Star is Born—which preached about staying true to your art form and not dwindling into a “sell-out” (even though the film was basically a sell-out and had no radical contribution to the film medium). Then came Bohemian Rhapsody, which was tedious and uninspiring. The third installment of 2018’s musical stint is Vox Lux, which is seemingly more promising than the other two.

Vox Lux premiered back in September at Venice Film Festival, it had a long festival run and recently released earlier this December for a limited run. Directed by Brady Corbet, Vox Lux follows Celeste (portrayed by both Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman) and the circumstances that surround her rise to stardom. It spans 18 years of Celeste’s life and depicts how she experiences significant cultural events as well as the trials and tribulations of her career. The film focuses on the effect fame has on Celeste’s disposition, which eventually molds her into a cynical and impulsive popstar who’s thinly spread across a landscape of tragedy.

The film is split into different chapters, which comes across as pretentious writing but it could be argued that it’s how society chronicles celebrities. The beginning of this film is blunt—it’s emotionally gripping and powerful especially in our current political climate. It’s crafted with a level of authenticity which doesn’t propagate or artifice specific cultural events and tragedies. Yet overall, the film is visually fine—nothing really to write home about. Honestly, the visual aspect of this film is so expected that I found it difficult to become fully immersed. The writing is a bit predictable, but it’s nice to see strong female characters at the film’s forefront.

Cassidy never quite hits the mark as young Celeste. At the end of the film’s first act, Cassidy’s monologue falls flat and the only thing I could focus on was how literally out of focus the entire sequence was. If it wasn’t for Portman’s unbelievable range and power in the second act, I probably would’ve dozed off. Vox Lux certainly tries to paint a masterful portrait but comes up short. It presents many ideas including the test of faith, the moral responsibility of family, the nation’s reliance on escapism, and so on. Many of Corbet’s ideas are half-baked—on the surface, Vox Lux is a mess of popstar clichés and when you dig deeper it’s a convoluted jumble of opinions about the aging societal idol.

As credits rolled in silence (which surprisingly isn’t the most pretentious part of this film), a man sitting in the front row of my theatre abruptly arose and announced: “I want my money back.” While I didn’t particularly enjoy this film, I can testify that Portman’s performance is worth every cent. << 5.5/10

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