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film review

The adult Celeste, played by Natalie Portman.Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Elevation

Vox Lux

Written and directed by Brady Corbet

Starring Natalie Portman, Raffey Cassidy and Jude Law

Classification 14A; 110 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Is the awards season big enough for two films about the makings of a pop star, both helmed by actors-turned-directors, both of whom share the initials B.C.? While Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born satisfied in that classic Hollywood mode of big emotions and even larger musical numbers, Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux sticks around in the mind far longer.

A highly stylized look at the tragic beginnings and mid-career lull of a Lady Gaga-esque performer named Celeste (Raffey Cassidy plays her in her teenage years, Natalie Portman plays her in her 30s), Corbet’s work is a big, sloppy wet kiss to all manner of rise-and-fall clichés. Yet, it mostly works, with Corbet eager to display his influences: one sequence of a young Celeste in Europe acts like a sequel to the only good scene in Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction, while the last 20 minutes pay homage to Jonathan Demme, and the film’s structure, complete with deadpan Willem Dafoe narration, recalls the best of Lars von Trier.

Corbet also handles his gonzo-spectacle set-pieces with confidence and control, especially a school-shooting opening that could be interpreted as crass, but comes across as only devastating.

If the log-line Melancholia meets Stop Making Sense doesn’t sound like a nightmarish fever dream to you, then Vox Lux is the only pop-music melodrama you need this year.

Vox Lux opens Dec. 21 in Toronto before opening in other Canadian cities in January.