DRAMA; 1hr 54min
STARRING: Natalie Portman, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law
Cruella world: Portman
Filmmaker Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux opens black with a horrible shock and holds on tight from there. In 1999, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is a pious 13-year-old naïf when her world is rocked by a shooting that injures her significantly while crystallising her singing voice. When the resulting ballad she writes with her sister (Stacy Martin) takes the pulse of a grieving nation, a record deal inevitably follows, complete with a pugnacioustalent manager (Law) and a platitudes-spouting publicist (Jennifer Ehle), each of whom Celeste, at 14 going on 90, handles with unfathomable calm.
That serenity is nowhere in evidence by 2017, the 31-year-old pop star (now played with jittery verve by Portman) having evolved into an uneasy mix of wind-up toy and hardened business operative. “All that matters is that you have an angle,” she assures her distanced daughter (Cassidy again, this time in drooping-flower mode) while sneaking sips of wine from a plastic cup. Celeste has become a casualty—of both her trauma-born success and the reverberations of a history which refuse to allow her to rest, and which Corbet and his cinematographer, Lol Crawley, circle with beady unease. In the course of one loaded day, she grows aggressive in a restaurant before losing her tenuous cool in a round-table interview when a journalist raises the touchy subject of a drunken traffic accident. She then goes on to get wasted with her still-dogged manager, arriving at that night’s gig significantly out of it. Welcome to CelebLand.
Mirroring a venal culture, Corbet’s brand of fame is a prison sentence served in hermetically sealed hotel rooms. Narrated by an unsurprised Dafoe with a poppy soundtrack from Australian musician Sia, the carnival is capped by a bombshell stadium performance for which Celeste in her shellacked splendour somehow contrives to rally. Untouchable to the end, she burns through the ether with the furious glitter of a falling star.