Edition 19 April 2019, by James Luxford
What makes a megastar? That’s the question director Brady Corbet asks in this abrasive drama about two periods in the life of pop superstar Celeste. We see the character in her younger years (played by Raffey Cassidy), using her voice to become the focal point of a violent tragedy in her school, which draws the attention of a sleazy record producer (Jude Law). We later meet the older Celeste (Natalie Portman), a spoiled diva whose fame has ruined every element of her life.
Opening with a harrowing re-enactment of a school shooting, Vox Lux is a fi lm that isn’t afraid to delve into uncomfortable territory in its examination of very contemporary ideas. Corbet presents Celeste’s rise to fame as a series of bad decisions made for Celeste by people who don’t have her best interests in mind. It also skewers the idea of celebrity as an ideal, following people who only seem to become more unhappy as Celeste’s success increases. Corbet, formerly an actor in films such as Mysterious Skin and Funny Games, plays with the audience’s perceptions with tricks such as casting actors in multiple roles, or including an imposing voice over by actor Willem Defoe (who is never seen on screen). It all adds to the sense that you’ve dived head first into Celeste’s strange, egotistical world. The three principle actors absolutely steal the show. As both the young Celeste and her future child, Raffey provides a wonderfully foreboding performance that sets up Portman for later in the fi lm. As the glue that holds the two time lines together, Law is tremendously creepy. It’s another impressive performance from an actor who seems to get better as he gets older. As for Portman herself, her diva strops are delightful to watch as she benefi ts from Raffey’s character building. Violent, foul mouthed but almost childlike in her vulnerability, it’s a terrific turn capped off by a concert scene that would make Lady Gaga proud. Vox Lux will not be an easy watch to many, with the early scenes of violence likely to put off mainstream audiences who won’t be expecting it. However, just like Corbet’s mesmerising 2016 drama The Childhood Of A Leader, it’s another impeccable examination of a rise to prominence that weighs the costs of fame by examining the rocky path to success.