A Star Is Born (2018)
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That all changes with A Star is Born.
Change, however, is a key word when it comes to remakes. (Or remakes of remakes of remakes...) In order to make the venture worthwhile, the film makers not only have to stay close to the ideas of original film, but they have to have a reason to retell the story. It's a delicate balance. Every version of a Star is Born follows a broken celebrity, in the Winter of his career, damaged by years of drinking who is suddenly reborn when meeting a young ingénue. The two fall in love, but while their relationship develops, their entertainment careers go in different directions.
Director and Co-Star Bradley Cooper's film seemingly borrows more from the Streisand/Kristofferson iteration of A Star is Born (the last time this story was retold), as the dynamic between the two lovers hinges on the music industry. When Streisand and Kristofferson remade the film, (for the fourth time at that point) in 1976, they broke one of the aforementioned expectations, as they both took home Golden Globes for their performances. Perhaps Cooper was more inspired by performance, rather than aesthetic, as the acting is one aspect out of many that shines in Cooper's version. The characters of Jackson Maine (Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) drive the entire story in what is essentially a film with only half a dozen notable characters. Cooper and Lady Gaga have amazing chemistry, and from the moment you see the two on screen together for the first time you feel the connection.
First time director, Cooper, deftly creates intimacy between Jackson and Ally, without which the story would certainly not be as successful. In stadiums housing thousands of fans, in small dressing rooms packed with screaming Drag Queens, in a loud dive bar, in the parking lot of an all-night-grocer, Cooper uses tight framing and sound impeccably to make it seem like they're the only two people in the world. You understand his charm, you see her vulnerability, and the two actors give side-by-side stellar performances.
That isn't to take away anything from a small, but powerful supporting cast. There were some brilliant and surprising moments from Dave Chappelle as Noodles, an old friend of Jackson's who reiterates how much Ally has revitalized Jackson. The largest surprise came from Andrew Dice Clay as Lorenzo, Ally's father. Both Clay and Chappelle brought great moments of love and humanity in their criminally small interactions with the two main characters. Sam Elliot also surprised me in his role as Bobby, Jackson's (much) older brother. They explain the age discrepancy, but the rest is self-explanatory as he and Cooper truly are brothers on screen, with all the frustration, fights and familiarity that goes with that relationship. Elliot in his similarly small time on screen, often showed the softer side of his craft, hiding touching instants of sadness when it comes to his difficult relationship with his brother, concealed only slightly by his iconic mustache.
It begs the question, does Cooper deserve all the praise as director, or does the cast? What I can glean from the film is Cooper definitely had his cast on the same page, as regardless of screen time, these actors made you care about their characters. The audience is invested. There are countless pivotal story beats where these characters may do something frustrating or angering. Instead of merely recognizing that these are hurdles to push the story further, I found myself almost vocally upset, akin to yelling at a character in a horror film to not go in the room where the killer is hiding. This film makes you want the protagonists to succeed, even when dealing with topical subplots regarding celebrity, regret, depression and substance abuse.
And that's because you're along for the ride the entire time. You're a part of this love story. The film sucks you in from the beginning with the roar of a raucous concert audience, the hard beat of the drums on Jackson's stage, and his hypnotic swagger as he plays for thousands. If you were one of the millions of people who have seen the trailer for this film, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about (kudos to the promotional department of this film, as that, is an extremely engaging and powerful trailer) but it stems from an extremely engaging and powerful film. The music, much like it did with the trailer gets inside you, not just inside your head where you find yourself humming a gentle country lilt sang by Cooper, it gets inside your heart and soul and rattles around. It repeats over and over until you're the one who doesn't want to let go. While Cooper should be commended for taking his craft seriously and improving his singing, this is where Lady Gaga shines, to no one's surprise.
Ally is a perfect role for her. The performer has spoken about how vulnerable and ugly she felt in some scenes when shooting this film, but it made her so real on screen. Ally's career, much like the first half of the film, blasts off, and all you can do is hold on until you realize the songstress is belting a powerful ballad. You wonder, much like her character "how did we get here" but at that point, you're just happy to be along for the ride. It is a testament to Lady Gaga's ability, because being such an iconic figure, if it weren't for her conveyance of sincerity and humility, the character's journey would seem forced and unfulfilling. Because of Gaga's performance, however, you relish the moment Ally can finally embrace who she is and bravely belt out her songs with no inhibition. In a film with so many moments that grab you, the music is undeniably one of my favorite aspects. I can't wait for this film to get a wider release so the studio can also make the soundtrack available.
If and when Award season comes, and A Star is Born is undeniably a forerunner for several major awards, I think Cooper should be commended simply because as director, he brought everything together. The songwriters, the actors, the cinematography, the sound design was superbly balanced to create the best possible version of this story making it, the brightest star for both critics and audiences.
But before we get into all that, I have to start with the film's opening half hour, which is exceptional. Despite its long running time, there's so much packed into the opening act, and it's delivered with jaw-dropping passion and energy, to the point where I felt absolutely exhilarated by the film within such a short period of time.
The passion with which Bradley Cooper is directing the movie is clear from the opening scene, and as we see our superstar musician form an unlikely and unexpected bond with a young local singer, the film begins to tell that age-old story about finding fame in beautiful and riveting fashion.
In fact, in the knowledge that it's a story that you know like the back of your hand, Cooper ingeniously ramps the dial up to eleven as we watch our young up-and-coming star caught up in an exhilarating whirlwind as she is suddenly transported from a small waitressing job to singing in front of thousands, culminating in a stunningly moving musical sequence that feels like a true epiphany, as you watch this young woman overwhelmed as she gets her first taste of stardom, something that I was absolutely blown away by.
That opening half hour is truly exceptional. Full of emotion, drama and moving at a pace that mirrors the dramatic transformation from ordinary singer to superstar, it's exhilarating to watch at every moment, and easily the best opening act I've seen from a film this year, setting up the rest of the film fantastically.
Rather unfortunately, however, things don't quite pan out in the same stunning fashion through the rest of the movie. While the remained of A Star Is Born is still good, I was left feeling a little disappointed that it couldn't keep up that same exhilarating energy and emotion from the first act, as things quieten down and become a little more predictable.
Of course, there's nobody who doesn't know this story, so being predictable isn't as much of a problem, but what I found frustrating about the film was how it failed to keep delving deeper into the lives of the lead characters as their careers start flying in completely opposing directions.
As a director, Cooper did an incredible job with the opening half hour, and his passion for the subject matter remains strong throughout, but the problem comes in the way that he portrays the main points of this age-old story in a rather plain fashion, moving a little too readily onto each new stage in the two singers' careers without leaving enough time for things to settle.
In that, the film has a good pace to it that makes it a thoroughly entertaining watch right to the end, but with the exception of the opening act and the finale, there just isn't enough depth to the individuals here, leaving me a little detached from their emotions throughout the middle portion, and having to rely on my knowledge of the classic rags-to-riches story to understand more about what they were feeling.
So, a little bit more clarity and patience would have gone a long way here, and I would have been genuinely happy to watch another half hour or so of the film.
While the second two-thirds of the movie aren't so profoundly moving, that doesn't mean there's nothing to praise, because along with Cooper's passionate directing, we see two fantastic performances from the director himself as well as Lady Gaga.
Starting off with Bradley Cooper, his portrayal of an aging and fading star is thoroughly fascinating to watch. While he doesn't appear as the story's main focus, the quality of his performance is such that I was at times even more invested in his character than the rise of the starlet, as he pulls off the maturity and likability of his battle-hardened character while still putting in a powerful portrayal of his deeper weaknesses, something that makes him both delightfully appealing and still deeply interesting to follow throughout.
Alongside Cooper is Gaga, who is a real revelation here. Given that she's never been in a role of this magnitude before, her acting ability is truly stunning, and she gives a performance that's just as profound and striking as any experienced A-list actress. Taking from her own experience of life in the music business and her rise to stardom in real life, the passion that she feels for her character is clear in every scene, with that previously mentioned epiphany-inducing musical number 'Shallow' featuring the best example of her incredible acting.
She holds fantastic chemistry with Cooper, and the two make their characters' relationship both convincing and genuinely appealing, even through the inevitable ups and downs of the story, keeping your interest strong as the film moves through the story towards the finish.
In the end, I was very impressed with A Star Is Born. It's unfortunately not pitch-perfect all the way through, but after a mind-blowing opening act, and featuring passionate and likable directing and performances throughout, it proves a massively entertaining watch regardless, with some excellent music to boot.
Jackson Maine(Bradley Cooper) is a hard living and hard whiskey drinking western rock singer who lives it up entertaining crowd after crowd. Jackson is a man who's got plenty of personal demons besides the bottle as his family friction with only brother Bobby(the great Sam Elliott) weighs on his heart heavy. Things change when Ally(Lady Gaga) captures his heart along the way the two get to know each other in an intimate way as passion becomes love.
Still the love is not without struggle and heartache as Ally becomes famous and well known while Jackson's music and personal life both take a downward path with alcoholism as he just can't escape his own dark shadows. It's like you as the viewer could see the tragedy coming all along.
Overall entertaining film with fine and beautiful music and the on screen chemistry between Bradley and Gaga is in top notch form, as clearly this is one love drama to see that showcases the rise of fame and stardom, also while showing a grim personal downfall.
The modern day remake is a little different in that Jackson Maine, our older star (now played by Bradley Cooper), is a stadium-filling mega-rock-star, recognised and idolised in every bar he goes into.... and he frequents a LOT of bars. Maine mixes the cocktail with drugs in this version meaning that as one star is ascending, his seems destined to be heading into a black hole.
At its heart, this is a good story of having self-confidence in your own abilities, no matter how people around you try to put you down. Gaga's Ally is one such person; a waitress who is constantly being told, especially by her blue-collar dad and his boozy friends, that although she has a great voice she's "never going to make it" because of the way she looks. In chilled fashion she meets Jackson Maine, who hears her sing and thinks she might be on the edge of glory. Not worried about her big nose, he appreciates she was born that way: in fact he likes her so much he wants to poke her face. (Sorry... couldn't resist it).
I appreciate from the IMDB rating that I am probably in a minority here. (At the time of writing this is (imho) a ridiculously high 8.3). But for me, I found the whole thing a dull affair. I can't remember the last time I went to a film when I actively looked at my watch... but 1 hour 45 into this, I did (it had another 30 minutes to run).
For one thing, I just didn't believe Bradley Cooper as the rock star character. He just came across as totally false and unbelievable to me. I had more resonance with Gaga's Ally. Even though she is a novice actor (and it showed at times) in general I thought she did a creditable job. But given these two factors together, there are long and indulgent exchanges between the pair that seemed to me to go on in-ter-min-ably. Best actor in the film for me was Sam Elliott as Jackson's brother Bobby. The mellowing of the brothers is a scene that I found genuinely touching.
I'd also like a glance at the original script, since there are some passages (the "boyfriend/husband" lines is a case in point) where it felt like one of them made an script mistake and, instead of Cooper (as director) shouting "cut", they kept it going as some sort of half-arsed improv.
What is impressive is that they got to film at live concerts (including at Glastonbury), although most of this footage is of the hand-held nausea-inducing variety. There is zero doubt that Gaga can belt out a song better than anyone. But I didn't get that same feeling about Bradley Cooper's singing: like a lot of this film (with Cooper as co-producer, co-screenwriter AND director) it felt to me like a self-indulgent piece of casting.
I know music is extremely subjective, and "country" isnt really my think anyway. But the songs by Gaga and Lukas Nelson were - "Shallow" aside - for me rather forgetable.
Overall, in a couple of years that have brought us some great musicals - "La La Land"; "Sing Street"; "The Greatest Showman" - here's a film about the music industry that did nothing for me I'm afraid.
Bradley Cooper gives a fair performance and Lady Gaga can sing but any talk of an oscar winning performance from her defies logic and is an insult to experienced actors.
On many levels the chemistry just wasn't there, Bradley's convincing method style was fully realised as a train wreck of a man but lacked any real character development, Lady Gaga's acting was very on the surface and at some points you could practically see her counting her emotional responses on line and on cue.
The emotional responses seemed to be confined between pathetic and hysterical that jarred with Bradley's more nuanced emotional palette.
Clearly Gaga devotees will see no fault.
The pacing of the movie was laborious at times with any tension evaporating entirely.
Two aspects of the movie were worthy of note, firstly the realistic concerts and the documentary nature of the camera work, and lastly, on the whole, the music, it was great fun but not memorable as it was set within an unconvincing movie.
It just seemed to drag on and on. And on. And on.