Review: Natalie Portman fierce in daring 'Vox Lux'

Natalie Portman plays a troubled pop singer in this startling provocation about fame and terrorism

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Natalie Portman in "Vox Lux."

Exploring the intersection of celebrity, terrorism and pop music, "Vox Lux" is a bold, often pretentious effort that takes on more than it can digest. 

But applaud writer-director Brady Corbet for the attempt. "Vox Lux" throws a lot at the wall, and while not all of it sticks, it still manages to rattle a nerve and linger long after the credits roll. (The credits here happen to roll in the beginning of the film, but that's beside the point.)

Natalie Portman stars as Celeste, a hellfire Staten Island pop star born of a school shooting tragedy. Portman doesn't show up until around the one hour mark; we begin with a prelude (narrated by Willem Dafoe, who makes a chilling story even more ghastly) where we meet the 13-year-old Celeste ("The Killing of a Sacred Deer's" Raffey Cassidy).

Celeste becomes a pop sensation after surviving a horrific school shooting and singing a song about it to the world. Jude Law comes on board as her sleazeball manager (known simply as the Manager), and Celeste is tossed into a predatory system that strips away her humanity and leaves her as a commodity. 

In Act II, we catch up with Portman-as-Celeste; in a daring piece of synergy that matches the film's cyclical message, Cassidy plays Celeste's estranged daughter, Albertine. Now a jaded, drug-addled nightmare, Celeste is tossed back into the spotlight when a mass shooting at a beach in Croatia takes cues from one of her old music videos. Is she to blame? Hardly. But "Vox Lux" is more interested in the way we treat fame and turn everyone from pop stars to mass shooters into fodder for the cannon. 

Corbet doesn't have all the answers, but he poses some provocative questions, and he gets a monster performance out of a ferocious Portman. "I don't want people to have to think too hard," Portman-as-Celeste says. "I just want them to feel good." Corbet wants just the opposite, and "Vox Lux" is all the better for it.


'Vox Lux'


Rated R for language, some strong violence, and drug content

Running time: 114 minutes