The flip side to ‘A Star Is Born’, Brady Corbet’s indie rise of a pop icon – played by a fearless Natalie Portman – is an uneven but fascinating spectacle.
If you’ll pardon a pop-writing cliché, there are plenty of killer singles in the intriguing, nervously millennial ‘Vox Lux’ but not enough material for a full-length album. Charting the major contours of the comet-like career of Celeste, a fictional mono-monikered pop star, it casts two central actors: Raffey Cassidy as the delicate teenage Celeste and Natalie Portman as her roughed-up and cynical older version. They shade the potentially embarrassing role with toughness and guile, but their efforts don’t add up to anything more than a gossipy curiosity.
Even though the first half of ‘Vox Lux’ makes us wait for Portman to appear, it’s the more compelling element, with English actor Cassidy’s fragile high-schooler surviving a Columbine-like shooting (brutally filmed) and becoming a national symbol of resilience in the process.
But Portman explodes into the film: she’s a paintball of New York attitude (the accent is dialled right up), much harsher than Madonna or Katy Perry. Celeste is a mother now, awkwardly, but writer-director Brady Corbet (‘The Childhood of a Leader’) doesn’t know what to do with that dynamic. The movie has a clued-in exclusivity as it heads off on the odd music-biz tangent, but when the singer is bum-rushed by the news of an act of terrorism inspired by one of her videos, it quickly retreats to a fun but vapid arena concert and promptly ends. The poseur at its heart is too complex for Corbet to handle, but you do admire him for dreaming her up.
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2 / 5
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As much as I wish the parts of the movie didn't mark significant changes in the quality of story and acting, where I was seriously impressed with the first third, after that I found myself thinking about a few chores for tomorrow, having a stretch, and yawning a bit. And without a doubt, when the highly visual/stylised 'Celeste' came on screen, it was for the sake of the storyline.
For me, the star of the film is Raffey Cassidy. She's a seriously good actress, and in places carries Portman's lightweight acting. Perhaps it's because Natalie Portman seems to gravitate towards shrill 'on-the-edge' characters (Black Swan, Jackie) I didn't engage with her Celeste: I don't think her rock-chick portrayal worked - it was predictable and clichéd, when it could have been much more - given the quality of the first third of the film.
Like I say, great for the first third, but drains away after that, and I found myself looking at my watch wondering when it'd finish.