Just because Vox Lux has an impressive pedigree--no less than Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Willem Dafoe are attached--doesn't mean it's anywhere near being Best in Show. In fact, the film is a bit of a mutt: It has plenty of bark and it occasionally bites, but ultimately, Vox Lux is not much more than a stray. One moment, it attempts to be an indictment of our nation's culture of gun violence; the next, it's a cautionary tale of ill-fated celebrity.
The film begins in 1999 when a then-teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a violent tragedy. But her victimhood morphs into national notoriety when a song she performs at a memorial turns into a Top 10 hit. Enter a ruthless talent manager (Law), who pushes Celeste toward global superstardom while exploiting the warped portrait of her secular deity.
In the film's second act, Portman appears to embody Celeste in full-tilt meltdown: Drugs and booze have become her primary food groups. A ham-fisted screenplay from writer/director Brady Corbet continues to pile on more melodrama when Celeste gets behind the wheel of a car, injures a pedestrian and then spews racist remarks about her victim.
To be sure, Vox Lux fumbles an obvious opportunity to be the antithesis of the latest version of A Star is Born. But its ridiculous storyline, accompanied by a forgettable musical score, never elevates any of the film's heavy-handed emotions.
For the record, I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for Portman. But her work here, especially considering that she only appears in about half of the film, simply doesn't warrant the full price of admission. It's my understanding that she's currently wrapping production on her next film, Pale Blue Dot, based on the bizarre-but-true story of an astronaut's downward spiral following an obsession with a fellow space traveler that stretches to troubling lengths. I'll be first in line to check that one out.