This garish, gaudy mess of a musical melodrama begins on Staten Island in 1999, when teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) sustains a life-threatening spinal injury as she tries to talk down the shooter during a harrowing massacre at her school. Comforted by her older, more talented sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin), Celeste is understandably traumatized. Working through PTSD, they write “Wrapped Up,” a tribute ballad, mourning the tragic violence. When their song goes viral, they’re courted by a sleazy manager (Jude Law) who seems both paternal and predatory.
As a part of their sudden fame and fortune, Celeste and Eleanor are plunged into a glitzy world that’s totally foreign to them; they’ve become popular pop stars, working in Stockholm recording studios and participating in video shoots in Los Angeles.
“I don’t want people to have to think too hard,” Celeste says, “I just want them to feel good.”
Skipping ahead 18 years, scandal-riddled, substance-addicted Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) has crashed-and-burned – like Britney Spears. But she’s determined to make a comeback with an extravagant hometown arena show to support her sixth album, entitled “Vox Lux.”
By this time, foul-mouthed, leather-clad Celeste, still wearing a neck brace, has her own estranged teenage daughter, Albertine (also played by Raffey Cassidy), who has more rapport with resentful Aunt Eleanor.
On the morning of Celeste’s spectacular comeback show, there’s another mass shooting – this time on a beach in Croatia – and the terrorists are wearing glittering masks copied from one of her most popular music videos.
Natalie Portman delivers a brash, full-glam performance, proclaiming, “I’m a private girl in a public world.”
Because writer/director Brady Corbet’s cynical, overly ambitious script, encompassing lost innocence and coming-of-age, is almost incoherent, the plot points are dutifully narrated by Willem Dafoe.
The Australian singer/songwriter Sia, who has written hits for Rihanna and Beyonce, delivers a strident original soundtrack, working with teen pop idol-turned-composer Scott Walker.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Vox Lux” is a flashy, deeply flawed 4, pretentious poppycock.