As the film opens, a narrator tells us ‘Celeste was born in 1986.’ As the narrator tells us about Celeste’s childhood, we see home movies where Celeste with her sister in matching cowgirl outfits are entertaining their parents with a song and dance. The narrator tells us ‘In the beginning she was kind and full of grace, and she wrote her own lyrics.’
We see houses in a neighborhood, and we see that it has become dark as street lights are going on. We follow a van as it drives down a deserted highway. The van pulls into a parking lot as we hear heavy-metal music playing on the car’s radio. We see a young man get out of the van and starts walking down the street. We see that the young man is disheveled and has long hair.
We cut to a music room at a high school. Students are tuning up their instruments and getting out sheet music. We see the teacher greeting her students as they file into the classroom. A young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) comes into the classroom and makes small talk with her teacher. The bell rings, and the teacher begins to make an announcement and realizes that one of her students, Eric is not in the class. She is told by a student that he is on his way.
The young man we saw earlier with the van walks into the room. He has shaved his head and is wearing makeup. He tells the teacher his name, and as the teacher replies to him, he pulls out a gun and shoots her. He walks further into the room as the students move to the back of the room to get away from him. He notices that Celeste hasn’t moved from the chair as she sits stunned at what just happened. He tells her to get up and move to the back of the room. Celeste doesn’t move but asks the shooter if the teacher is dead. He replies that she is and demands that she move to the back of the room. He tells her again to get up but to move to the back away from the windows because there will be an explosion. The shooter pulls out a rapid-fire rifle and beings shooting at the ceiling. Celeste tells him to stop, that she is moving to the back of the room. As Celeste moves slowly to the back of the room, an alarm goes off, and the shooter tells everyone to be quiet. We see students and teachers running down a hallway as the alarm continues to go off.
We cut to the parking lot of the school, and we see the van the shooter parked earlier explode. Celeste pleads to the killer to let them go, but he starts to take his false eyelashes off as he explains that he has already killed a bunch of people and can’t let the students in the classroom go. Celeste pleads again to let everyone but her go and that she will stay in the classroom with him. When the shooter asks what will they do then, Celeste says ‘we will pray together.’ As Celeste turns to comfort a fellow student, the shooter shoots her twice in the neck. Celeste will survive the shooting, but it’s a day that will change her life for forever.
That is the opening for writer/director Brady Corbet film ‘Vox Lux.’ The first third of the film is an amazing bit of filmmaking. Starting with the horrific shooting, the film follows Celeste and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) in Celeste’s hospital room, pen a song for a memorial service. At the memorial, Celeste with her neck bandaged and wheelchair-bound sings a heartfelt song that becomes an Internet sensation. Because of that song, Celeste meets a music manager, played by Jude Law, and she gets a recording contract. At first, Celeste and her big sister are almost ‘holier than thou’ going as far as to demand that the manager stop cursing around them. As Celeste and her celebrity status grows, the sisters, especially Celeste, become wilder, drinking, taking drugs and partying. This will ultimately be the downfall of Celeste as she becomes a pop icon, she goes more and more out of control. I didn’t like the performance of Jude Law as Celeste’s manager. He plays the part of the manager way over the top, and it seems that everything that he does is either by being a jerk or a sleaze-ball. This is Raffey Cassidy’s film, and she plays the innocent, wide-eyed girl perfectly. She even holds her own with Portman when she plays’ Celeste’s daughter. I wish the whole film had been about the younger Celeste, which would have been fascinating to see Cassidy evolve into the pop star.
For the second half of the film, Celeste is playing by Natalie Portman, who uses a weird New York accent that just doesn’t work because the younger Celeste didn’t have an accent. Celeste as an adult has become obsessed with her belief that everyone is out to get her. We learn that she had a daughter while still a teenager. Her daughter is played by Raffey Cassidy, which at first confused the heck out me since Cassidy had played the young Celeste in the earlier part of the film. The adult Celeste bullies her sister around, and we learn that her sister is the one who is raising Celeste’s daughter. I did not care for this portion of the film as it keeps hitting us over the head that celebrity lifestyle can ruin people’s lives and that they can lose their way, their innocence. Portman plays Celeste as an egomaniac that thinks she is above the law and maybe even God. It’s a role that doesn’t work for Portman, she is just too broad with her performance. We learn that Celeste has suffered another tragedy, but this one was caused by her. Celeste shows no remorse over the incident as we see her bungle both a press conference and an interview with a reporter over the mater.
The last portion of the film was the most enjoyable for me. It’s a year later, and we see that Celeste has cleaned up her act. We see her with her dancers, and backup singers go through a warm-up routine that reinforces that Celeste is sober and is loved. We then see Celeste perform a number of her big hits in a vast area. Portman is amazing in these numbers (think Sia who wrote the songs in the film or Pink) which are elaborately choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, Portman’s husband. It’s an interesting way to end a movie, and it makes you want to see more of the songs.
‘Vox Lux’ is a challenging film to watch, with an incredible start that just fizzles out when Portman takes over in the role. The middle of this film feels heavy-handed and doesn’t work. The film is still worth seeing for the first half and the last ten minutes of songs. Maybe you should wait until it comes out on DVD/VOD and you can skip through the middle part of the film.
Vox Lux Review
My Rating: Bargain Matinee
Mike’s movie rating system from best to worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See It Again