Review: Natalie Portman upstages 'Vox Lux'
Courtesy of NEON
Part social commentary, part satire, but fairly inconclusive - director Brady Colbert's latest trek into obscure territory entitled “Vox Lux” raises questions about fame and notoriety in one of the strangest films of the year.
Split into chapters, with a dry narration from Willem Dafoe - “Vox Lux” charts one popstars insane journey into stardom starting in 1999 and ending in 2017. The start proves most important: because in a brutal opening sequence we witness a troubled boy walk into his music class and kill the teacher instantly - which eerily draws comparison to the Columbine school massacre. Spraying bullets at the teenagers who bullied him, one girl, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) attempts to talk him down. Despite a brief connection, more shots are fired, catching Celeste in the neck leaving a scar that will never heal.
Oddly enough, the incident has strange consequences and “Vox Lux” suddenly becomes the rise of Celeste’s pop-star persona. While recovering in the hospital, Celeste is able to churn out an emotional ballad which she unveils to thousands attending a vigil for the victims. The song becomes a hit and Celeste is thrown into show business at the age of 14.
Guided by her manager (Jude Law) a scruffy looking character who always seems to have her best interests at heart, Celeste takes her first steps into becoming a teen idol, dabbling with drugs and having steamy affairs with rock stars galore. All these actions bare repercussions that will come to head in the second act, where, at this point, the much hyped and talked about Natalie Portman figures into the equation. It’s here where “Vox Lux” also changes up its attitude, and fast forwards 14 years into the future. The transition is jarring and represents the best aspect of Colbert’s bold choices. Long gone are the days of innocent Celeste, she’s now a thirtysomething diva, trying to hold on to her legacy after a scandal attempted to steal the spotlight.
Portman channels a character on the verge of a nervous breakdown and we’re all the better for having sat and watched it. But for as terrific as Portman is in her portrayal, Colbert seems to offer more risk than reward; especially when he throws another senseless massacre into the film that, for this critic, seemed muddy. This all suggesting that something major is coming, a finale that will offer answers to the madness being presented, but, in the style of the film, the ending provokes more than educates, leaving you hanging with weak notions about fame in the modern world. Sure, Portman and Law anchor the sails of the film’s crazy madness, but they can’t stop Colbert from tethering too far into the abyss.