“Vox Lux” is one of the most… unique movies of 2018. This is the second feature film directed by 30-year-old Brady Corbet, who has transitioned to work behind the camera following a slew of acting roles in films such as “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “While We’re Young”.
Corbet also wrote the “Vox Lux” screenplay. Every decision he makes is intentional and far from subtle: the story, the camera movements, the narration and technical aspects (including a full, old-fashioned opening credits roll).
The first act, set in 1999, is both daring and effective. Celeste is a 13-year-old Staten Island, N.Y. 8th grader. The first day back at school from Holiday break she’s involved in a shocking and violent event. She and sister Eleanor are wannabe singer/songwriters. One of their songs, performed by Celeste (she’s played with convincing naiveté by Raffey Cassidy) becomes a viral hit. Instantly she’s on the fast track.
These opening 45 minutes provide a fascinating and unpredictable look at a the making of a pop star at the turn of the century. Celeste’s manager (Jude Law) has the now 14-year-old’s best interest in mind – to a point. But recording sessions, video shoots and too much partying begin to take their toll.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Corbet also uses a narrator to help tell Celeste’s story. Willem Dafoe does the honors. His copy is well-written, self-aware and highly philosophical. It works nicely with the overall tone of the movie during this “early Celeste period”.
But then everything changes as “Vox Lux” suddenly jumps to 2017. The now 31-year-old Celeste is much different than her younger self. Natalie Portman plays the older Celeste, complete with a forced and inconsistent Staten Island accent.
The energy and tempo of “Vox Lux” completely comes to a halt once Portman appears on screen. The film simply crashes into a brick wall. The next 45 minutes consist of the unstable superstar going through a complicated day as she gets prepares for the first concert of her latest tour. The film’s title, “Vox Lux”, is the name of Celeste’s latest album – her sixth.
A scene in a diner between Celeste and her teen daughter goes on interminably. The entire time I was thinking “What just happened to this movie?” There’s plenty of commentary on the music industry, success and tragedy. But it all comes in the form of the Portman character spewing opinion as fact.
The final 10 minutes of “Vox Lux” consists of Celeste in concert. Portman sings five songs in total, and to her credit, she is convincing as a combination of Pink, Katy Perry, Sia (who actually wrote the songs for this film) and Lady Gaga.
“Vox Lux” is actually an interesting companion piece to Gaga’s “A Star Is Born”. The movies offer differing perspectives on the struggles of becoming a singing sensation. But that’s where the similarity ends. While “A Star is Born” maintains both energy and interest from the first note to the last, “Vox Lux” rises but then quickly falls off the charts.
What Corbet presents is a rather simplified look at the randomness of life in the 21st century. For all its style, it’s unclear what the takeaway is supposed to be, other than there are multiple ways that people can be victimized… and that Natalie Portman never spent much time in Staten Island.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Vox Lux” gets a C+.
Running Time: 115 min.