Vox Lux has such snarky contempt for pop music—or at least the star-making machinery that governs it—that you wonder why writer-director Brady Corbet bothered to make an entire movie about the subject. Natalie Portman stars as Celeste, a mid-career pop star, but she doesn’t show up until the second half, when we follow her through a hectic afternoon of press appearances at a hotel before the opening-night performance of her latest tour. (Portman’s go-for-broke, unhinged turn doesn’t allow for much empathy, which isn’t something the film as a whole seems interested in.) The first half of Vox Lux involves Celeste’s rise to fame as a 14-year-old, played by Raffey Cassidy. That Cassidy also plays Celeste’s teen daughter in the second act is just one of many showy choices Corbet makes (having the comprehensive opening credits roll up from the bottom of the screen is another). None of these flourishes add up to much, including the movie’s boldest gambit: the decision to parallel Celeste’s career with major tragedies. The movie opens with a school shooting that Celeste survives (the ballad she writes afterwards goes viral, launching her to stardom); goes on to reference 9/11; and later depicts a terrorist attack at a beach in Croatia. If the intention is to point out that the pop industry will exploit such events for its own gain, that’s not incisive enough to justify what often feels like exploitation on the part of Vox Lux itself. I will give the movie this, though: Celeste’s songs (originals for the film written by Sia) are the real deal, far more fun and frothy than what we get from Ally (Lady Gaga) in that other 2018 meditation on fame and music. A Star is Born is the better movie, but for whatever it’s worth I’d rather see Celeste in concert.