Review / ‘Vox Lux’ (MA) *** and a half

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THIS is the second feature by writer/director Brady Corbet. We’ve not seen the first (“The Childhood of a Leader”, 2015, examining the development of a youthful fascist, suggesting that it challenges its audience, which I find commendable).

“Vox Lux” in a somewhat backhanded way also challenges its audience. Its structure is similar to a three-act stage play. In Act 1, the 1999 shooting of teenagers in a high school leaves Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) with a bullet between two neck vertebrae. After her recovery, Celeste and her songwriter sister perform a song that, in the inexplicable manner of such things, goes viral and makes Celeste a star.

Act 2, occupying most of the film’s 119 minutes, unfolds in 2017. Celeste is to perform at a concert that night to promote her sixth album. Experiences have toughened her in the dog-eat-dog world of celebrity. She has become a mother. Now 31 years old, she confronts the possibility that her daughter may be pregnant. In Croatia, a seaside massacre has been carried out by men wearing masks similar to one that she wore earlier in her career. And she is remembering how she knocked a pedestrian down with her car.

Tough stuff, this. Not made any softer or sweeter by what Celeste has become. She’s aggressive. She’s tough. She may have learned how to handle the media and the paparazzi but her manipulative manager (Jude Law) isn’t helpful when the time comes to face them clamouring for an explanation of events on that Croatian beach. When she and her daughter go to a coffee shop to avoid the pack, the manager plays the song that made her famous and wants a selfie with her.

Act 3 is the concert. Celeste belts out the opening number. The performance is raw, edgy, confronting. The jangly instrumental backing is dominated by drum beats, more for assertive rhythm than for musical merit. The energetic dance routine becomes very same old same old.

Roll closing credits. From the top down, a welcome change from the bottom-up convention.

The best for last. As adult Celeste, Natalie Portman rages and curses and abuses her people in a helluva performance that audience members have to respect and admire even if they find much of the film distasteful.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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