Applying the labels of “good” or “bad” to a film can be difficult, and that’s primarily because they can mean many different things. Cinema is an artform that demands attention to craft on multiple levels, and a poorly-made film is one thing, but what an individual viewer appreciates or enjoys tends to be highly subjective. Tastes vary so widely that one person’s “great” can easily be someone else’s “terrible,” and neither of them have to be wrong. For critics, who are supposed to do more than simply share their personal opinion, it’s easier to talk about films in terms of intent and effect.
Each movie is essentially a series of choices, and good artists make those choices consciously to cause the viewer to react in a certain way. This could be a director framing a character’s face in close-up to make the audience empathize with them, or an editor using sharp, frantic cuts to create confusion and disorientation, and it’s the critic’s job to explain what about those choices did or didn’t work. A “bad” film for a critic is one that doesn’t seem to make conscious choices, either because of sloppy craftwork or because of blindly following an established formula to play it safe. “Good” films are well-made and take risks, but even “good” films can receive negative reviews if the filmmaker’s choices were ineffective.
Vox Lux, Brady Corbet’s new film about the rise of a turbulent popstar named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy and NataliePortman), is not a “bad” film. Titled sections and a voiceover from Willem Dafoe give the film a clear, intentional structure. The camera work is strong, at times phenomenal. The aesthetics and performances achieve a certain tone
In 1999, a teenage Celeste Montgomery (Cassidy) survives a violent tragedy, and when her heartfelt song at a funeral garners national attention, she decides to pursue a career in music. After agreeing to work with a manager (Jude Law), she and her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) are ushered into the turbulent world of stardom on a road paved with drugs, alcohol
Corbet’s ambitious reach often exceeded his grasp, and though this is admirable, it muddled the film’s focus and message. Despite the
Many of Corbet’s choices are designed to jar and disquiet the viewer, particularly the unflinching way in which the camera fixates on cruelty, but he too often succeeds in repelling us from the film itself. Character interactions are frequently odd, drifting inconsistently from insightful to unrelatable. Where the first violent event is deeply affecting, a later attempt to incorporate 9/11 feels out of place, unearned. Scenes drag, particularly the overlong concert ending that kills any dramatic momentum. Vox Lux is a “good” film that is also a failure, and there are better things to do with your time than endure that frustration.
WhatsUpRI Rating: 1.5 out of 5
WhatsUp Ratings Guide
5- Excellent – Don’t miss it
4- Very Good – Well worth your time
3- Good – Solid, but not earthshattering
2- Fair – Not quite ready for prime time
1- Poor – Don’t waste your time or money