All that glitters is not indicative of something that will encourage happiness or integrity as brilliantly shimmery catsuits demonstrate in Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux. Protagonist Celeste is a survivor of a terrorist mass shooting at her school, the song she writes to express her grief becomes the platform that launches a supernova career.
Raffey Cassidy plays the younger Celeste and captures the fragility of someone rehabilitating. The not remarkably talented but quietly enigmatic fourteen year old, is thrown into the toxic environment of fame building thanks to the opportunist machinations of her manager, played brilliantly by Jude Law. As the voiceover intoned by Willem Defoe announces ‘in the beginning, she was kind and full of grace’, you can see what is coming, but it is served with swerves.
The rise of Celeste’s star is punctuated by acts of terror, the shooting, the fall of the Twin Towers and a fictional attack on sunbathers in Croatia by men wearing masks from one of her videos. Which brings us up to date with Natalie Portman now Celeste, and Cassidy playing her daughter Albertine, the result of a one-night stand at a young age. The acts of violence are inserted into the narrative much as they are Celeste’s life, she cannot escape queries about her inclusion in them ‘I don’t want people to think, I want them to feel good’ but her obligation to comment is pressed. Portman swaggers incoherently puking and posing with a Noo Yawk accent as she navigates addiction, motherhood, waning fame and past scandals. She is at her best when silently expressing her desperation and greedy ambition. Finally escaping to the one place she has left, the stage, the ‘triple threat’ emerges with songs by Sia and choreography by Benjamin Millepied.
Corbet sections the film into acts and in doing so splits the celebrity rise and personal demise of Celeste into a series of disjointed acts, but there is an inevitability as the film itself describes the ‘predestination’ of the girl ‘born on the wrong side of Reaganomics’. The ‘21st Century Portrait’ of fame is replete with dysfunction and copious glitter that disguises a weary erosion of self. The film stutters when it pulls away from the human reality and attempts to serve us ‘THIS IS THE LESSON’ exposition but brilliant acting, consistently dark but not claustrophobic filming sprinkled with dashes of super-8 camera capturing the innocence of the young Celeste makes for a engaging if flawed interrogation of fame in the modern age.
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