If a soundtrack to a troubled movie that features half Sia songs and half Scott Walker compositions sounds at the very least interesting, rest assured, it is not.
“That’s what I love about pop music. I don’t want people to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” That sentiment is uttered early on in Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux by the film’s protagonist, Celeste, a school-shooting survivor whose moment in the national spotlight turns into a decades-long ascent to pop stardom. It’s an old cliché about pop’s role in society that demands some ideological sharpening, but Corbet’s second feature doesn’t possess half the amount of focus required to develop the well-worn idea into something more insightful and holistic.
As young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives an unbelievable tragedy that’s become all-too-believable while her older self (Natalie Portman) is trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and trauma, Vox Luxattempts to tilt at a few thematic windmills—the American culture of violence, how said culture intersects with pop iconography, the pressure we place on public figures to behave in a way that reflects our own assumed system of belief—without fully committing to any one beat. As a meditation about the daily horror of mass shootings in America and the accidental stardom that can accompany becoming the face of tragedy, it’s purely anachronistic; the assertion that Celeste’s elegiac post-shooting song “Wrapped Up” could go viral in the early 2000s anticipates the normalcy of regular violence and instant fame in a way that betrays the pre-viral time period. As target practice for the target-rich machinations of pop music itself, Vox Luxfeels as forced as Portman’s Staten Island accent.