The High Note Curdles as It Sustains

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Movies about superstars often set themselves up for failure. The “it” factor—that which can elevate an artist/performer to an icon—is necessarily elusive, but movies routinely try, try, and fail to capture and compress the kind of lightning in a bottle that flashes only a few times a generation. The massive gulf between the skillset (and often specific charisma) required for a pop star and an actor is the undoing of so many rock-star quasi-biopics. When Natalie Portman took the stage at the end of the otherwise frequently provocative Vox Lux, waddling and warbling like an amateur, I wondered if I was witnessing the punchline to a joke about how frivolous pop life is. (However, at a post-screening Q&A, the Vox Lux director Brady Corbet assured me, “We really tried to make her a very good pop star”). In contrast, The Rose, Mark Rydell’s 1979 approximate retelling of Janis Joplin’s downfall, remains the gold standard in the cinematic rock star character study subgenre because of its star Bette Midler’s tour de force. She was playing a rock star, yes, but more importantly she is one. Lady Gaga carried the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born for the same reason. Bohemian Rhapsody was awkward and ahistorical, but Rami Malek’s ability to command the stage made his eventual Oscar for the role not quite the out-of-left-field travesty that many argued it was.

, Mark Rydell’s 1979 approximate retelling of Janis Joplin’s downfall, remains the gold standard in the cinematic rock star character study subgenre because of its star Bette Midler’s tour de force. She was playing a rock star, yes, but more importantly sheBohemian Rhapsody

was awkward and ahistorical, but Rami Malek’s ability to command the stage made his eventual Oscar for the role not quite the out-of-left-field travesty that many argued it was.It’s hard to be a rock star, and it’s hard to make hit records that resonate culturally. It follows that these are hard things to imitate, as a legion of also-rans and coulda-beens can attest.

Ross is no Diana Ross, either. While it’s tempting to draw parallels between her character and her mom, Diana just has it—the effortless glamor, the ability to make the absolute most out of a relatively limited vocal range, the force to glide across the stage so as to appear to be floating.

 

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