Brady Corbet directs Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Raffey Cassidy in this fictional biopic of a pop star who came to fame after surviving a school shooting.
Much like Ash is the Purest White, this feels like a filmmaker taking stock of the first fifth of the 21st century. It also showcases an abnormally layered, ambiguous, spellbinding central character (Cassidy / Portman as Madonna / Britney inspired Celeste). Don’t get me wrong Vox Lux is an uneven film. Much of the run time is filled with knowingly detached, knowingly ironic character study soap. You aren’t entirely sure there is an endgame to the patience testing tantrums and tracking shots. But it is bookended by two bravura set pieces. That school massacre opener is vice tight and devastating. And the finale where Portman’s broken Celeste wiggles her sequinned heart out to autotuned hits is cathartic. Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, the razzle dazzle of a big concert finale jettisons all doubts, lifts your soul, obliterates any nagging loose ends. So there is an endgame. It is just elusive in its intention. Corbet apes his influences confidently… he loves Kubrick, Von Trier, Haneke and Bergman. But that expert deployment of music, that’s his own. Scott Walker’s score, Sia’s tunes. Wow! That uncertainty he makes us feel. We know the pot is boiling. We know the pot will boil over. Here’s the turmoil, here’s the steam but we never see it spill over into disaster. Willem Dafoe tells us what is happening. His detached narration is filled with mocking regret. Is he the devil? Are we? Corbet’s house style is precocious, lifted, but it makes you feel like you’ve fucking seen something.