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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.19.18] drama

Actor turned writer/director Brady Corbet hugely impressed me a few years ago with his feature debut behind the camera The Childhood of a Leader which, though a challenging watch, is a brilliant debut from a filmmaker with vision.

While his debut is a period drama about the early years of a young boy who becomes a tyrannical leader, on the surface, Vox Lux appears to be at the other end of the spectrum, a drama about a pop star from her early years of stardom to decades into her career, both movies share similar themes.

Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy both star as Celeste. Cassidy takes on the role of the teenage star while Portman takes the reign in the third act as the worn-out-but-not-burned-out pop diva and both actresses give great performances and though Portman has the showy role, its Cassidy's portion of the movie which really sticks the landing.

Vox Lux opens with a shock that slowly wears away to reveal Celeste, a self-assured teenager who finds her way out of trauma by sharing a song which captures the nation. Her sister writes the song but Celeste is the star and when an enterprising manager, played brilliantly by Jude Law, comes into the picture, he sees an opportunity to extend Celeste's 15 minutes of fame into a career.

The first two-thirds of the movie focus on Celeste in the early years, a young artist navigating sudden stardom, and working hard to make sure she's not forgotten when the next new thing drops. Cassidy, no stranger to difficult roles and visionary directors (she's previously worked with Tim Burton and Yorgos Lanthimos) is stellar as a bright-eyed young woman with hopes for a career but also well aware that it could end at any time; she's constantly walking the line between ingenue and worldly industry pro.

Portman takes over the third act, a tried and testes pop star navigating a particularly difficult moment on the eve of a new tour. The older Celeste seems self-assured but she's cold and distant and broken down by the system and though she puts on a strong face, older Celeste feels more like a child than young Celeste ever did.

The intent of Corbett's vision is clear but the third act of Vox Lux doesn't really work. Portman takes the screeching pop star to another level and the entire time it feels like she's yelling at everyone around her which, though great for the character, quickly gets grating. And then there are the film's final 15 minutes which feel like an overproduced concert movie.

Vox Lux is really uneven but Corbett's sophomore effort is, none the less, an interesting film and another fascinating observation on how the events and actions of our youth affect us as adults. Let's hope the next chapter is more in line with his debut feature than this latest offering.

Vox Lux opens December 7.

Recommended Release:The Childhood of a Leader

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