VOX LUX is a depressing life story of a pop artist that is credible and realistic by writer/director Brady Corbet aided by the spirited performance of Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman and by Jude Law who plays her nasty and suspicious manager.
As in her Oscar winning BLACK SWAN where she plays an artist in the form of a ballet dancer, Portman now plays pop singer/dancer who has risen to fame despite seismic, violent circumstances. Still she spirals downwards but there is a silver lining in every cloud.
The film begins in 1999 with teenage sisters Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy, last seen in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) and Eleanor “Ellie” Montgomery (Stacy Martin), surviving a seismic and violent tragedy. The tragedy unfolds like a shock, and therefore will not be revealed in this review to prevent a full movie experience. Director Corbet clearly has the intention of this effect for his audience. The sisters compose and perform a song about their experience, making something lovely and cathartic out of catastrophe. This launches their singing careers. The sisters draw the attention of a passionate manager with no-name (Jude Law) and are rapidly catapulted into fame and fortune, with Celeste as the star and Ellie the creative anchor. By the film’s second half, the film shifts to a 2017 setting. The now 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman) is mother to a teenage daughter of her own (again played by Raffey Cassidy) and struggling to navigate a career fraught with scandals when another act of terrifying violence (again not revealed) demands her attention.
VOX LUX is the name of one of Celeste’s album. The life of Celeste follows the route of many a singer/songwriter (like Amy Winehouse) whose documentaries have already been seen by many. The story of a star’s downfall (as in the recent A STAR IS BORN) is a depressing all too familiar one that many will avoid, especially during the festive season. But director Corbet inserts an lively entertaining dance number at the climax for the purpose of lifting spirits. It works!
The film is narrated by Willem Dafoe (immediately recognizable) who has been doing a lot of narrating recently since DO DONKEYS ACT? The voiceover is supposed to put the story into perspective and keep it there as opinions can change. Like DO DONKEYS ACT? Defoe put-on touch of sarcasm into the proceedings.
Despite the sombre nature of the film’s material there are a few bright moments. One is the message that has an aside. During Celeste’s down period, she says to her audience: “This girl will never go down!” Director Corbet also inserts a very lively dance sequence during the film’s climax which showcases Portman’ versatility as an artist. Yes, this girl can sing and dance.
Because of the shocking incidents affecting Celeste’s life, her ups and downs and the parallel rise of her daughter’s singing career, VOX LUX feels a bit disjointed. But director Corbet knows what he is doing and brings his film to a satisfying conclusion at the end.