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Pop-star psychodrama Vox Lux is strangely memorable

Like the nagging tunes of the Sia-composed songs that pepper its soundtrack, Vox Lux has plenty of hooks. Chief among them is the bizarrely riveting performance of Natalie Portman in the role of Celeste, an American pop star of the Britney Spears/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry mould, doing what she can to raise brand-awareness after 20 years of spotlight and tabloid attention. She’s brash, unhinged and possesses a Noo Yawk accent broader than the Brooklyn Bridge.

But it’s not all about her. After an introductory sardonic voice-over by Willem Dafoe, whose regular narrations are like a “Faustian theme” warning light, we meet the teenage Celeste (played neatly by Raffey Cassidy) as a tragedy puts her and her song-writing sister on the news. That leads her to a manager (Jude Law), recording studios, dance lessons, a breakthrough and a life that will never be the same.

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But director Brady Corbet’s second feature doesn’t follow the A Star Is Born playbook. After all, he’s attempting to dissect 21st-century celebrity by suggesting it has analogues to terrorism, which, despite some harrowing scenes, is unconvincing in its ambitious hypothesis. Also, his dense screenplay runs out of drama too early and opts to end on a triumphant note that hasn’t been earned by the preceding craziness.

Still, for all the film’s unevenness and pretentiousness, Celeste, fame monster and celebrity nightmare, makes this backstage psychodrama – chalk up another one for Portman after Black Swan – strangely memorable.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★

Video: Neon

This article was first published in the March 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.