Vox Lux is the title of super pop star, Celeste's (Natalie Portman), sixth album. Staging a comeback following a major scandal in her life, Celeste is set to prove that she's the indomitable force she once was. Written and directed by Brady Corbet, whose first film in 2015, THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER, was a breakout hit at the Venice Film Festival, VOX LUX examines cultural patterns in America between 1999 and 2017.
The film begins in 1999 when Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is in high school. A violent tragedy changes her life in ways she could never imagine. She and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) write and perform music, but a solo at a memorial service catapults Celeste to stardom.
Leaving their small town behind, Eleanor and Celeste move to New York City where Celeste's manager (Jude Law) oversees her career and their lives. Eighteen years later, Celeste (Portman) is back on track while dealing with motherhood, drugs, drinking and, most importantly, fame.
VOX LUX is not one of those films one immediately "loves" or even likes. There is a fair amount of shocking gun violence which I felt was borderline gratuitous. Corbet is using his pop star protagonist to navigate certain devastating events which are serving to define an era. He's not drawing any conclusions or offering remedies, merely highlighting the absurdity of celebrity and how pointlessly it can be achieved.
While Cassidy as the young Celeste is fragile and naive, Portman's Celeste has evolved into a foul-mouthed, tough broad who has seen it all. Both women are amazing, but it is Portman's performance which transcends VOX LUX to another level. She and Law get stinking high before her onstage appearance, and though we've witnessed other actors in this state, her portrayal is disturbingly realistic. And once she gets on stage, Portman is electric.
VOX LUX is not particularly an easy movie to recommend --- I actually don't. However, if you are a fan of Portman's you will not want to miss her in this. She's done some great work and, as Celeste, she's as good as she's ever been --- maybe better.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Normally the featured performer in any movie is seen within a few minutes. But in VOX LUX, Natalie Portman is nowhere to be found for quite a while. Instead, 30-year-old writer/director Brady Corbet focuses on Portman's character, Celeste, as a high school student who survives an horrific event. The young Celeste is played by Raffey Cassidy, who has a dual role later in the film as Celeste's teenaged daughter, Albertine.
Meanwhile, it is guaranteed that the shocking opening sequence at Celeste's school will get your attention. I also doubt it's a coincidence that Corbet chose 1999, the same year as the Columbine massacre, to introduce his drama.
The second half of VOX LUX centers on Celeste (Portman) as a 32-year-old mother with a 14-year-old daughter. Corbet spends a long time filming a conversation between them in a no-frills diner/grill, and it is clear that mother and daughter, like any family members, have issues.
Corbet, meanwhile, uses some unique camera angles throughout his movie. While in the diner, we are looking up at Celeste and Albertine for nearly their entire talk, which, I might add, is less than compelling. At other times, Corbet's camera films from behind his actors, whether they're walking on a public sidewalk or down a hall. It's as if we are eavesdropping on their conversation which I found quite effective.
The diner scene ends in an unconvincing, almost convoluted way when Celeste verbally attacks one of the diner employees who only wanted a photo with Celeste, a well-known pop star. Her abrupt reaction to the man's request comes across as a contrived way to illustrate Celeste's frustrations with her celebrity status.
Jude Law, sans his British accent, is Celeste's scruffy manager. Although he generally disagrees with Josie (Jennifer Ehle), the publicist who helps to promote Celeste through the years, they manage to forget their differences for the good of Celeste's career. Law is so good in this role we forget he's a native of the U.K. Stacy Martin plays Celeste's older sister, Eleanor, initially guilt-ridden for not protecting her baby sister in the 1999 incident and later acting as a key cog in Celeste's career.
But VOX LUX takes off into a different stratosphere once Celeste and her team of high-octane dancers take the stage in front of 30,000 adoring fans. Clad in a skin-tight shimmering outfit and wearing the essential microphone attached to her head, we are treated to an explosive, mind-blowing performance. Portman has the moves and strong vocals to make this all work.
While the majority of VOX LUX may fall short in entertainment value, the last 20 minutes of the film more than make up for it. The musical numbers are literally jaw-dropping and Portman's singing and gyrations make the film worth seeing.
If you're wondering, "vox lux" is a Latin term that loosely translated means "voice of light" and is the name of Celeste's sixth album. Perhaps overcoming the tragedy of her earlier years via her music can be considered a breakthrough, i.e., the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Opinion: See It Now!