11 December 2018 | PotassiumMan
Edgy, allegorical depiction of social decadence
Natalie Portman stars in this very unusual, intriguing but flawed film that explores several different genres in tackling pop culture and its sordid grip on the national consciousness at the dawn of the new millennium. Is this a satirical bombardment? One could argue. Is it a tragic indictment? Definite possibility. One thing it is not is straightforward.
This film gets by on the strength of its performances and its committed portrayal of the poisonous celebrity lifestyle and the emotional toll it exacts. Portman is explosive as the grown-up pop star who came from humble beginnings and found her survival of a horrific school shooting catapulting her into national prominence when she performed a song at a televised vigil. Jude Law is sharp as her gruff, street-smart manager who early on helps transform her from a victim of tragedy into a gaudy, commercialized monstrosity. Raffey Cassidy shines in dual roles as the pop starlet in her younger days, and as her teenage daughter in the film's second half.
There are drawbacks. A dry, detached voiceover narration by Willem Dafoe is more often a glaring distraction than an enhancement. And the film's simplistic juxtaposition of acts of terrorism and concert tours only tentatively conveys the theme of the intertwining of tragedy and pop culture. The film is obviously trying to echo its plot thread that takes hold in the beginning but it seems so faint by contrast.
Thought-provoking but more for the thesis that it tackles than for its actual achievement, this film is worth watching. How well it succeeds depends on how you view Portman's performance. Does she eviscerate the entertainment industry as immoral with a lightning-rod portrayal of wasted youth? Or does she dilute the film's impact by giving a performance that is too much of a caricature to constitute an allegory? Decide for yourself.
I freely admit that this film is not for everyone while acknowledging that I myself found it quite compelling. Finally, a splendid array of well-performed songs and a sterling soundtrack add to the film's favor. Recommended.