Brady Corbet’s sophomore outing is a dramatic, evocative form of pop music escapism. With current application to the dissemination of matters concerning it (and the industry) and continuing horrors in the early millennium interwoven through the tight, stifling nature of celebrity. It includes extended voice-over passages from a deadpan Willem Dafoe.
In Vox Lux (Latin for ‘voice of light’) the filmmaker and scribe has two acts, ‘Genesis’ and ‘Regenesis’, when chronicling a singer, Celeste, maybe like Britney Spears, given the time frame, who rises to stardom after surviving a spinal injury from a mass shooting as a teen (shades of Columbine) in Staten Island.
In the first part, the younger Celeste (done quite well by English actress Raffey Cassidy of The Killing of a Sacred Deer) works through the disturbing experience in inspiring fashion to launch a music career. Her classically trained, songwriting sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac) and grizzled, sleazy manager (Jude Law, currently in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) are prominent in this ascent.
Then (with more clarity, notably in scene movement and transitioning, almost acting as a freestanding theatrical experience), as an early 30-something, Celeste (Natalie Portman, very persuasive earlier this year in the sci-fi flick Annihilation, who could be drawing a bit from her deft, Oscar-winning Black Swan role here) is seen in a hotel during an afternoon before the kick-off of a comeback tour as her personal life and career is shaky at best. And, as her hometown awaits her return the sequined Celeste-inspired marauders have struck in Croatia which adds to the inner turmoil and mania taken to the hilt by media and paparazzi.
As discordant as the ambitious filmmaking seems there is plenty of instantaneous striking imagery and musical brandishing in a sometimes hypnotic eavesdropping of Celeste. The purposefulness of her artistry is ultimately proudly realized, but being brought into this milieu can be a little head-scratching. Corbet isn’t going for a conventional backstage drama and Portman eschews campiness from her glam stage look to instill intense braggadocio with a demanding schedule that includes roundtables.
How Cassidy becomes her daughter who bonds more with her aunt than her more temperamental mom with a deeper native accent who is lured by the Faustian wiles may be disorienting. But, maybe that’s part of the unexpected allure of Vox Lux which appears to equally yearn for Douglas Sirk and tough actioners in fast, fancy fashion. The production includes the smooth erudition of Sia to fuel a soundtrack even though her tracks weren’t specifically prepared for a film that might have enough entertainment value to play alongside the recent poignant and remarkable rendition of A Star Is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.