Director: Brady Corbet
Cast: Stacy Martin, Natalie Portman, Jude Law
Watch Vox Lux online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
From Glaswegian country rocker Wild Rose to Oscar-winning belter A Star Is Born, films about singers are having something of a moment right now. Vox Lux emerges somewhere between the two, a unique, almost unpleasantly dark affair. If A Star Is Born showed us the age-old criss-cross of a couple’s rising and falling fame, Vox Lux shows us someone who can’t stop falling, even as their success climbs – compared to Star’s classical Hollywood fable, this is a distinctly modern, bleak tale.
Our star is Celeste (Raffey Cassidy), a teenager who, following a tragic incident, finds herself seeking comfort in a pop song – one written by herself and her sister (Stacy Martin). That pop song catches the ears of the country, chiming with a national mood of grief and recovery, and suddenly, she’s catapulted to stardom – a leap orchestrated in no unintentional way by a shrewd manager (played by a show-stealing Jude Law with a cruel gusto and a lascivious attitude towards celebrity).
Natalie Portman steps into Cassidy’s shoes during Celeste’s adult years, while Cassidy steps into the shoes of Celeste’s daughter. Portman is formidable, combining the audacious extravagance of her Black Swan turn with the relentless commitment of her performance in Jackie; her Celeste is at once fiery and burned out, electrifying and frazzled, a victim as much as a villain. As she continues to ride the tumultuous wave of fortune set in motion by violence, she, in turn, finds her own musical act being appropriate by terrorists to commit atrocities.
It’s a twisting, queasy cycle, and Corbet offers no easy answers as to what’s cause and effect; it grapples with burning questions and is happy to down in flames. There’s an underlying sense of confusion and chaos that runs throughout, as we see characters fall back on music as a form of catharsis, only to find that maybe, in the modern world of commerce and media, it doesn’t have the pure power it once did. The songs are all co-written by Sia, which gives Celeste’s signature track an infectious hook and her climactic concert a convincing powerhouse quality, but they’re countered by a deadpan voiceover from Willem Dafoe that sounds like the narration from a documentary about war crimes. The second half doesn’t hold together as well as the first, with the momentum and tone descending into something messier, but as this wild, uneven ride – part satire, part sober character study – lurches from showbiz pizazz to hollow uncertainty, you suspect that’s precisely the point.