‘Vox Lux’ Review: An Apocalyptic Star can be Born
In “Vox Lux,” Natalie Portman gives the kind of aggressively big performance that will teeters precariously, along with at times excitingly, on the edge of vulgar indulgence. She plays Celeste, a drug-snorting, booze-chugging pop star, a banal narcissist who’s having a bad run personally along with professionally, partly because she has sacrificed one for the some other. Intimacy challenged, Celeste also has serious family problems, along with her love life can be scandalous fodder for professional gossips. She carries a fresh album, though, along with seems on the verge of a career rebirth, one that will will affirm her place as a god in a profane world.
“Vox Lux” can be an audacious story about a survivor who becomes a star, along using a deeply satisfying, narratively ambitious jolt of a movie. Written along with directed by Brady Corbet, that will uses Celeste — an ordinary American girl who through a mass murder becomes extraordinary — as a means to explore contemporary spectacle. Corbet can be especially interested in celebrity along with terrorism, which he positions (without much of a stretch) as powerful, reciprocal forces from the flux of life. Here, a terrorist attack in another country becomes a sound bite at an American pop star’s news conference along with, like clockwork, fuels a scandal, a bleakly familiar transformation of news into a show.
The story proper opens with off-putting violence in 1999. The scene can be a Staten Island high school class on the first day after a break, using a teacher (Maria Dizzia) welcoming her students. A heavily armed student in black, his eyes darkly made up, enters. The teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) tries to reason with the intruder, who guns down students, leaving a sickening, too-artful arrangement of the dead along with wounded. Celeste survives, a bullet lodged in her neck along with writes a eulogistic song with her sister (Stacy Martin) that will becomes a sensation, transforming her into a star. She grows up to become a celebrity cliché that will Portman, as the adult Celeste, takes on with outlandish verve.
The story unfolds in a series of discrete parts, some with self-conscious section titles that will could seem merely pretentious if you miss the simmering, deep irony. Despite its spasms of violence, “Vox Lux” can be coolly funny, though you may be the only one laughing. Its overarching tone can be calibrated sardonicism, an approach that will can be most evident from the serene, once-upon-a-time narration coming from an offscreen Willem Dafoe. First heard over images resembling home movies of Celeste along with her family, the voice-over — which introduces Celeste by placing her on the “losing side of Reaganomics” along with refers to her “predetermined destination” — also tips that will she isn’t the only creator of her story.
The dry grandiloquence of the narration puts Celeste at a remove, generating her seem more distant than she might be in a movie more interested in milking the viewer’s empathy along with tears. She becomes a figure of pathos because she’s a victim, yet also because of Cassidy’s subtle, physically inward performance. The actress’s coltish thinness, accentuated by some of the costumes, here reads as delicacy. At times that will also conveys worrisome fragility, particularly from the scenes in which Celeste undergoes physical therapy along with, later, awkwardly tries out some choreographed dance moves. You’re drawn to Celeste, yet her ambition suggests there’s more to her, a greediness.
Portman enters from the second half along with stays for the remainder. With her belted jeans along with leather jacket, she brings to mind the mid-1980s Madonna (Lady Gaga, too), whose motorcycle babe in turn summoned up Monroe along with Brando, a dizzying chain of pop-culture signification. By This specific point from the story, Celeste has that will all, has done that will all, a lot of that will questionably. Hovered over by her longtime manager (a perfect Jude Law), she has betrayed intimates, indulged from the usual vices along with become a tabloid mainstay. Her luminescence has disappeared, leaving in its place a hard, shiny 21st-century brand.
This specific can be only Corbet’s second feature as a director, after his portrait of fascism, “The Childhood of a Leader.” Like that will movie, This specific one carries a fantastic score by Scott Walker that will provides the familiar narrative assistance along with editorializing, at times helping shift the tone coming from the intimate to the monumental, coming from the relaxed to the menacing. In a brief, bravura sequence that will bridges crucial moments from the young Celeste’s life, the music — its swirling, urgent strings along with resonant, heavily punctuating drums — accompanies low-angle images of fresh York buildings. The music along with upward-looking shots suggest the point of view of someone modest yet also looming, ominous power.
Portman’s performance puts an exclamation point on Celeste’s every gesture, word along with saunter. Everything about the character can be outsized, extreme, including an accent that will sounds like that will’s been lifted coming from a fresh York cabby in an old Hollywood comedy. Celeste can be by turns opaque along with transparent; with her hair pulled off her face, her eyes darkly made-up (in an echo of the school shooter), she looks as if she has become her own mask. Much about her can be different coming from when she was young, yet when a second mass murder casts a shadow over Celeste’s life — along with she quips about that will — Corbet seems to be hewing to Marx’s dictum that will history happens first as tragedy along with then as farce.
In time, Corbet effectively hands the movie over to Celeste, who’s at once a casualty of her time along with its apotheosis, a blank canvas, a force. This specific could be a nihilistic shrug on Corbet’s part, a surrender to the spectacle, except that will Celeste — with her robot moves along with blandness — brings her fans pleasure, meaning. She’s also fun, which may be enough. (Her songs, which Portman sings, are by Sia.) At times, including from the bloody opener, Corbet seems to be following the lead of the art-film auteur Michael Haneke, whose explorations of mediated violence can skew sadistic. By the time “Vox Lux” ends, that will’s clear that will Corbet has his own ideas; he’s still finding his way yet, at 30, he can be already a dynamic filmmaker.