GFF19: Vox Lux

Brady Corbet's sophomore feature is as confident and ambitious as his brilliant debut The Childhood of a Leader, but it's thrown off course by Natalie Portman's shallow performance as a cynical pop star

Film Review by Iana Murray | 04 Mar 2019
  • Vox Lux
Film title: Vox Lux
Director: Brady Corbet
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Raffey Cassidy
Release date: 3 May

After his assured debut The Childhood of a Leader, which chronicles the sinister beginnings of a fascist, actor-turned-filmmaker Brady Corbet sets his sights on the rise of another figure of global fascination, the pop star. Vox Lux is just as confident as his first film, and even more narratively ambitious, but the film falters in trying to interweave its character study with weighty ideas. Add to that a jarring left turn at the halfway point that all but destroys its glowing potential.

The origin story of pop sensation Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) begins with a tragedy: a mass shooting at her Staten Island school. In her hospital bed, she writes a song with her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) for her classmates and performs it at a memorial service. She’s instantly taken under the wing by a manager (Jude Law), producers request she change the lyrics from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and her song becomes the voice of a nation’s collective grief that no longer belongs to her. Celeste is an overnight star. 

In the first half, we can see the insidious nature of the industry worm its way into the teen. Then time jumps forward where the now 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman) is completely unrecognisable from her former self. Cassidy’s portrayal is far more meatier than Portman’s, the latter playing a loud caricature. Vox Lux contains a surface level consideration of the commodification of trauma and the corruptive power of fame, never trying to dig deeper than Portman's flashy performance.

The message could not have been more blatant if it was written in big red letters, although a voiceover narration from a familiar actor does a similar job. “Celeste’s loss of innocence curiously mirrored that of the nation,” he explains in one of the film's more cringe-worthy lines. Inevitable eye rolls are the symptom of frustration with Corbet’s refusal to let the images speak for themselves.

Vox Lux had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and is released in the UK on 3 May by Curzon Artificial Eye