Vox Lux, directed by Brady Corbet, is an attempt to paint the portrait of a fictional pop star in the modern age.
Framed as a fictional documentary narrated by Willem Dafoe, the film follows the rise and struggles of international pop star, Celeste Montgomery. After surviving a school shooting 14-year-old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) becomes an overnight star after singing at a memorial service.
Cassidy’s performance is languid, barely registering her surroundings. Her face is passive, but hints at something bubbling beneath the surface. It's a subtle and effective performance, and a highlight in a film which is filled with excess. The young actor is supported by Stacy Martin, who plays her slightly aggrieved sister, Eleanor, and Jude Law, who plays Celeste’s manager.
Despite its premise and strong opening, Vox Lux loses steam when it makes a leap from 2017 to 2017. Celeste, now 32 and played by Natalie Portman, embarks on her comeback tour after being embroiled in a series of scandals. Complete with the overly animated Celeste and her Staten Island accent, Vox Lux descends into a frustratingly shallow deposition on modern stardom.
The film uses lengthy violent imagery to raise notions of the artist’s responsibility but barely engages in the questions produced. Instead, it uses these scenes as set dressing, providing a shocking image without any real examination of why outside of cheap shallow visuals.
Vox Lux falls apart due to its lack of a clear direction. The documentary structure evident at the start of the film isn’t revisited until the closing scenes. Portman’s excessive yet interesting performance carries the film. Yet the film relies on Portman’s frantic movements and expressions rather than any kind of narrative or emotional arc.
In a truly incomprehensible decision, the film features almost 15 minutes of continuous and uninterrupted concert footage, with no attempt to justify its presence. Portman performs pop songs written by singer-songwriter Sia, their only noteworthy quality. An occasional pop fan, I found myself cringing through the entire sequence, begging for each song to end. Unfortunately I was only to be greeted by another. More frustrating, this sequence features a pivotal plot twist; creating more confusion. Such a twist serves no purpose, and does not re-contextualize the film in any significant way.
While at times visually arresting, Vox Lux has very little to say about the entertainment industry which hasn’t been said before. Despite an intriguing opening, the film undoes itself in an increasingly baffling second half, producing a film which is far more interested in shock than substance.