Has A Lot To Say;
But Stumbles Along The Way;
And Misses Its Mark.
Musical bio pics often follow a very similar formula and show the dark side of fame and the toll it can take on its subject. But what about a rise to fame that is not only lined with darkness to begin with, but actually caused by it? This movie takes what would otherwise feel like a typical story and manages to flip it by giving it an immediate hook within the first five minutes, implanting a very interesting central theme about the commercialisation of tragedy and society’s tendency to worship victims while giving them a national platform. There is a wealth of interesting subtext there, but the issue is that it never gets explored on the level it deserves, even though a second, similar tragedy occurs later in the film and suggests a return to that theme. For a film with such a message at its core, it seemed to have trouble within the script when it came to actually delivering that message.
From a technical standpoint, I had no complaints. It is very well lit and shot, featuring a number of long takes, walk and talks that might even make Aaron Sorkin proud, and steady direction from writer/director Brady Corbet. His camera is an observer, often following this celebrity around like a paparazzi, but the movements are steady and fluid. Willem Dafoe’s narration helps to add weight, giving the sense of added historical significance to the life of the pop star at the film’s center, Celeste, played fiercely by Natalie Portman. Portman does a great job of playing a woman who has been propped up, rightly or wrongly, and has built walls around herself to fortify her position. She isn’t a complete diva, per se, but does act like you would expect someone who was propelled into stardom as a teenager to act. She is ferocious but fragile and walks the line very well. Playing both the young version of Celeste as well as her teenage daughter in the latter two thirds of the film, Raffey Cassidy is excellent, and surely there is a lot to be implied with such a double role beyond the obvious idea that she looks like her mother looked when she was younger. Jude Law is rock solid as the manager, giving Celeste stability over the years while also possibly being the source of some major underlying issues.
If you’re judging the film based on the opening half hour or so (including it’s amazing opening credits), you may think you’re in for something that is much better than it turns out to be in the end. For something that starts with such promise, it shouldn’t decline in overall quality once the Oscar winner takes over the screen, but that is unfortunately the case. It is by no means bad, but it seems to be aiming for a target that it just can’t seem to hit, and loses momentum as it goes along until it reaches a finale that seems unintentionally funny and lacking the impact it seeks. After some discussion, Jerome and I think we figured out what it was going for and it is interesting, but the execution late in the movie comes off as cheesy and I can’t figure out if that was the goal or not. Corbet is saying something very insightful about the vapid emptiness of pop culture, but tries to use big ideas to fill in those spaces to mixed results.