Vox Lux, the second film from actor-turned-director Brady Corbet (after 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader), scans as a fruitless and embittered attack on pop celebrity, complete with familiar assertions that our collective degradation of cultural mores is bound to lead to the insidious destruction of the individual. Told in several parts and featuring omniscient baritone narration that would feel at home in a Wes Anderson film, Vox Lux plays-out almost like a fairytale of American fame-chasing in the early going, save for the school shooting (no-so-subtly set in 1999) that acts as the narrative’s entry point. Celeste (Raffey Cassidy as a teen, Natalie Portman as an adult) is shot in the neck during this attack; she survives, and pens a mournful anthem of her resiliency that captures the mood of the nation. And as her grief is appropriated by mass culture and her career blossoms, this riff on a TMZ version of the American Dream remains compelling. We then jump to the present, where Corbet abandons the nuanced development of Celeste for a Lady Gaga-Katy Perry mashup, by way of Jersey Shore. From here, it’s all downhill for Vox Lux, culminating in a 15-minute arena performance by Celeste which un-inspiringly argues that the vapidity of celebrity leads to a depersonalization of the self so total that only the adoration of fans can bring happiness.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 3.