Vox Lux, Brady Corbet’s second film, is the imagined biography of a fictional pop star played uncomfortably by Natalie Portman.
Unlucky Voiceby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Brady Corbet made a striking directorial debut with The Chlldhood of a Leader. It was bold, brash and different. So for that difficult second film, Vox Lux, expectations were high.
Like Corbet’s previous film, Vox Lux charts the development of a child as they become a malignant adult phenomenon and it tries to show how they grew into the person they became.
The film starts by sensationally referencing school massacres like Columbine and Sandy Hook. A small community is traumatised. At the memorial service for the victims, Celeste (excellent Raffey Cassidy) sings a sweetly touching song she has composed with her elder sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) and it goes viral. She’s suddenly catapulted into a singing career beyond her wildest dreams. Though both sisters have contributed, Celeste is the centre of attention with Eleanor uncomplainingly in the background. Jude Law does a sleazy turn as the manager who gets his hooks into her and doesn’t let go as she overtakes him and becomes famous.
With an abrupt segue into a second half that’s 18 years on, adult Celeste is now an international pop sensation. But she’s an unreasonable, jaded, drink-and-drug-addled monster, with a neglected teenage daughter (also played by Raffey Cassidy).
Seemingly less mature and in control than she was as a schoolgirl, this Celeste is unrecognisable from her focused, ambitious younger self. Sadly, Natalie Portman is totally unconvincing and possibly miscast in the role of a hugely famous, exhibitionist pop singer in a sensational sub-Lady Gaga mould.
It feels as if Corbet and his partner Mona Fastvold have written a screenplay about something they have no personal knowledge of: the result is an avalanche of unoriginal clichés that don’t say anything original about either the terrorism of rampaging killers or the corrosive effect of celebrity. The film starts with an effective and shocking bang but it disappointingly fizzles out from then on. It’s partially rescued by narration by Willem Dafoe and the challenging avant-garde music composed by the late Scott Walker, who also collaborated on The Childhood of a Leader. Original songs for Celeste’s performances are by Sia.
Vox Lux screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 3 May 2019 in the UK.