Though a well-made and fairly compelling look at young pop stardom, Vox Lux suffers somewhat from a muddled mission.
Whether Brady Corbet’s ambitious film is a satire, cautionary tale, fluffy entertainment, or some combination of each is unclear — a status tied to the inescapable feeling that protagonist Celeste’s songs, when sung as a teen by the otherwise excellent Raffey Cassidy (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and in her early 30s by an equally strong Natalie Portman, are laughably bad.
The overproduced, lyrically-bland anthems — penned by actual pop star Sia — may or may not be intentionally godawful, but the social commentary via Celeste’s rise to musical fame after surviving a terrifyingly-enacted school shooting in 1999 with help from her legitimately talented older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin, Nymphomaniac) cuts right to the bone of U.S. consumerism and sheep mentality.
Buoyed by Willem Dafoe’s calm, godlike narration, Corbet’s insights remain sharp as teenage Celeste succumbs to bad behavior on the road and grow increasingly biting as the timeline leaps to 2017 and finds her in full diva comeback mode with the titular sci-fi-themed album as her saving grace.
Set over the course of a single make-or-break day with a massive homecoming show to perform later on, the second act cranks up its tension with Celeste threatening to unravel at any moment through a number of human triggers.
With her sister, daughter Albertine (Cassidy again), manager (Jude Law), publicist (Jennifer Ehle), a prying journalist (Christopher Abbott), fans, and the manager of a restaurant pulling her in various directions and forcing her to confront her demons — or, in some cases, encourage her to continue running from them — Celeste flirts with disaster and Portman is a wonder to behold as she navigates these obstacles.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark