Vox Lux opens with a gripping and horrifying sequence set in 1999, when young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is wounded in a Columbine style high school massacre, which seems to be a semi regular occurrence in American life.
A talented young singer/song writer, once she recovers from the wound in her neck, which necessitates her wearing choker style camouflage for the rest of her life, she writes a song inspired by her experience, which is taken up by a sparky young manager (Jude Law managing to look younger by being filmed mainly in wide shot) and tough record company executive (Jennifer Ehle, who is not given enough screen time). And at only 14 Celeste becomes a star.
We follow her early career for a while, taking in her close relationship with her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) and her affair with a young male rock star. Inevitably drugs play a part in her life.
Shortly afterwards we jump to 2017 where Celeste is now 31 years old and played by Nathalie Portman and Law is thankfully able to play his own age. Celeste appears to be almost a different woman – harsh voiced, stressed out, intolerant, as well as a different sort of artist – more like Madonna as opposed to her earlier, gentler persona. And despite the ironic voice over commentary from Willem Dafoe, which is very effective in the first section, the narrative becomes tricky to follow, as we struggle to catch up on what has happened in the intervening years to change her so much. One wonders why the director chose to cover those years with verbose dialogue rather than action
In a long scene in a diner we learn she has a daughter (also played by Raffey Cassidy). We learn that she is planning a comeback tour (Why comeback? What has happened?), that she has fallen out with her sister and she doesn’t deal with tricky questions from journalists very well. This last relates to a terrorist incident, which seems to be copy catting a particular face mask, which is one of her trademarks.
Maybe the opaqueness and confusion of adult Celeste’s character is the point that director/writer Brady Corbet is making here in terms of what the madness of celebrity does to people. His previous film The Childhood of a Leader had its ambiguous aspects as well.
The film ends with Celeste’s big comeback concert, which is a bit of a blast as rock concerts go but doesn’t really resolve the story in any way
Portman is strong and charismatic in the role, while Cassidy is sympathetic as the young Celeste. The music is impressive. Much of it was specially written by the late Scott Walker, while Celeste’s songs are by Sia. And the film looks terrific – all credit to cinematographer Lol Crawley. As a story however it is ultimately rather unsatisfying.