Natalie Portman stuns audiences as a troubled pop singer in divisive 'Vox Lux'
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Natalie Portman received all kinds of accolades (including an Academy Award) for her portrayal of a troubled ballerina in the 2010 film "Black Swan," a movie that critics either loved or hated, but agreed that Portman's performance was the best part of the movie. She now stars in another polarizing film, "Vox Lux," in which she plays a troubled pop singer named Celeste, who survived a mass murder at her school when she was a teenager. Portman does her own singing in the movie, which features original songs written by Sia and a score composed by Scott Walker. Just like with "Black Swan," critics are saying that "Vox Lux" has moments of weirdness and violence that will either turn off viewers or appeal to those who like movies that are edgy and unpredictable.

"Vox Lux," written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Brady Corbet, had its world premiere at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival in Italy, followed by a North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The movie's cast also includes Jude Law as Celeste's sleazy manager; Jennifer Ehle as Celeste's publicist; Raffey Cassidy, who has dual roles as an underage Celeste and Celeste's teenage daughter; and Stacy Martin as Celeste's more musically talented older sister, Eleanor. "Vox Lux" (which is Latin for "voice of light") features voiceover narration by Willem Dafoe. Neon has acquired distribution rights to "Vox Lux," and the movie's 2018 release date is to be announced.

Neon is an independent film company launched in 2017 by Tom Quinn (co-founder of The Weinstein Company's now-defunct RADiUS spinoff) and Tim League (co-founder of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain and Fantastic Fest). In its first year of business, Neon has already scored an Oscar-winning film—the Tonya Harding unconventional biopic "I, Tonya," which garnered Allison Janney an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. "Vox Lux" is one of several films with complicated and often emotionally scarred women as the lead characters that Neon has been releasing, including its first film, Colossal" (starring Anne Hathaway); "I, Tonya" (starring Margot Robbie as Harding), "The Bad Batch" (starring Suki Waterhouse as a kidnapping victim out for revenge) and "Ingrid Goes West" (starring Aubrey Plaza as an Instagram stalker). In 2018, Neon's film releases include the tennis biopic "Borg vs. McEnroe" and the critically acclaimed documentary "Three Identical Strangers," about triplet brothers separated at birth. Neon also recently acquired "Wild Rose," a feature film that premiered this year at TIFF, and is about a British, ex-con single mother who aspires to be a country singer.

As for those contrasting "Vox Lux" reviews from critics, Slate rated the movie only one out of five stars, and called "Vox Lux" a "strange amalgam of rock-star clichés," while The Guardian rated the movie four out of five stars, with this description: "It's part satire, part social comment, all fragmented and downright inconclusive." Variety called the movie "extraordinary" with a "jaw-dropping" performance from Portman, and said that Sia’s "throbbing, synth-ridden tracks" have "impressive real-world credibility." The website /Film had this evaluation: "Vox Lux doesn’t quite work, but it makes one hell of an impression."The Hollywood Reporter, which listed "Vox Lux" as one of the best films of August/September 2018's major film festivals, described the film as "an audacious attempt to understand post-Columbine, post-9/11 America through the life story of a superstar pop diva who is both a victim of random violence and unwitting catalyst for further tragedy."

According to critics' early reviews of "Vox Lux," Portman doesn't appear in the movie until the second half, but once she does, she delivers a tour-de-force performance. In interviews, Portman has been saying that she studied Lady Gaga's Netflix documentary "Gaga: Five Foot Two" as one the things to prepare for her "Vox Lux" role. Ironically, Lady Gaga could be up against Portman during this awards season for her critically acclaimed performance in the 2018 "A Star Is Born" remake, which is a much more mainstream film than "Vox Lux."

"Vox Lux" doesn't have quite the same Oscar buzz that "Black Swan" had ("Black Swan" had five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), so any awards recognition that "Vox Lux" receives will be focused mainly on Portman's performance. TIFF 2018 had five feature films about female singers—"A Star Is Born," "Vox Lux," "Wild Rose," "Teen Spirit" (starring Elle Fanning) and "Her Smell" (starring Elisabeth Moss)—and all of the movies are expected to be released within months of each other, so there will be inevitable comparisons.