Brady Corbet's "Vox Lux" is an unusual film. It starts off with one of the tensest high school shootings I've ever seen and ends with an elaborately conceived and hypnotic pop music performance, filled with tacky dancing and a light show. In between all the drama and fireworks is a character study about fame, trauma and the undeniable power of song. Does it all come together? Not really, but it's incredibly fascinating to watch an artist go for broke like Corbet does here.
The film stars Natalie Portman as Celeste, a singer that rose to fame after surviving a mass shooting as a teenager. The film is split into two halves. The first half portrays young Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy) whom after going through the trauma of a school shooting, teams up with her songwriting sister (Stacy Martin) and manager (Jude Law) to produce these catchy pop songs that strike a chord with the mainstream.
The second part, which occurs at around the 55-minute mark, has to do with a 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman), now a trainwreck, an alcoholic, and at the height of her fame with an ego ballooned to the point of no return. Portman's rather odd New Yawk accent is distracting, but, for the most part, she delivers one of her better recent performances by delving full-on into her character's broken psyche, with an immediacy and intensity she hasn't shown since "Black Swan."
The film, as unpredictable and looney as it sounds, goes from one episode to the next, but never evolves beyond its concept. However, there are scenes of immense power in "Vox Lux," such as the aforementioned shooting and musical climax, and Celeste's interviews with the media, through press conference and roundtable, which have the cringe-inducing effect of showing us, through her interactions with journalists, what kind of person Celeste has become in the missing 15 or so years the film doesn't depict.
Talking about those missing years, Corbet makes the grave mistake of not including a middle section in his film, which makes the transition from teenage Celeste to adult Celeste rather abrupt, and consequentially gives us many unanswered questions. The film could have benefitted from having a little more meat to its drama rather than relying on its showy narrative device.
On a side note, Scott Walker and Sia worked on the soundtrack, an infusion of electro-pop with infectiously catchy melodies, and the deadpan narration by, of all people, Willem Dafoe brings dark comedy to the film's already twisted sense of humor. However, when it all comes down to it, there are scenes where Corbet swings and misses, especially those involving Jude Law's manager and the dysfunctional relationship between Celeste and her sister.
"Vox Lux" is very much an artistic statement, you are still fascinated by the director's approach, which takes risks that most artists would deem too outrageous to conceive on-screen — it's just too bad that Corbet couldn't properly expand on them more. [B-]