A Star Is Born

star_is_bornSTARS4It’s been 42 years since the last adaptation of A Star is Born.  I suppose we were about due.  The original script by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell has proven to have a quality that transcends time as the narrative evolves to suit the tastes of the current generation.  The core remains the same.  It’s rags-to-riches!  It’s got romance! It’s got tragedy!  Yes, it’s full of showbiz clichés.  That’s because good stories never go out of style, especially one with a charismatic female lead as its central focus. The 30s had Janet Gaynor as an aspiring actress who surpassed a fading movie actor depicted by Fredric March.  The 50s transomed the property into a musical as Judy Garland was the ingenue taken under the wing of a former matinée idol played by James Mason.  The 70s version had Barbra Streisand as a nightclub singer plucked out of obscurity by a rock star played Kris Kristofferson.  Bradley Cooper’s adaptation adheres most closely to this one.  The actor directs, writes, produces and acts. Anyone tabulating the years will notice the 90s should have gotten their own rendition.  Flash forward to the present and we have Lady Gaga as Ally, a woman who waits tables by day and croons “La Vie en Rose” by night in a drag bar.  Bradley Cooper portrays the established artist, Jackson Maine, a country music superstar that performs to sold-out arenas.  Jackson stumbles upon Ally’s show while searching for a bar to drink booze.

Lady Gaga can act.  She happens to already have a Golden Globe for TV’s American Horror Story, so perhaps not a shock.  Some might contend that she’s essentially playing what she knows – a singer.  However, Ally the unknown cabaret performer unsure of herself is decidedly different than Lady Gaga the confident multi-platinum selling celebrity.  The pop star-turned-actress naturally captures that mix of fear and elation a novice has in front of a crowd.  There’s a moment where she crystallizes this feeling so perfectly, that I was overcome by the experience  It occurs early on about a third of the way in when Jackson Maine is giving a huge arena concert for his fans.  He flies Ally out to the gig.  She is brought backstage ostensibly to watch the show.  He finishes his tune, then addresses the audience.  He strides over side stage up to Ally and asks her to duet her own song with him.  The look of shock on her face is so genuine, we feel her terror as well.  She declines.  “I’m going to sing your song with or without you,” he asserts and then proceeds to do just that.  As he begins, she’s left standing there obviously conflicted, an anxiety of emotions bubbling up until she’s inspired to take the stage.  It’s a masterful scene.  I got goosebumps.

Lady Gaga’s outstanding achievement is somewhat expected.  Bradley Cooper is even more surprising.  As the fading arena rock musician, he affects this comfortably lived in existence.  His voice, a deep, gravelly mummer exists all in the lower register.  He instantly recalls grizzled actors like Kris Kristofferson (star of the 1976 version) and Sam Elliott, who actually plays his older brother Bobby in this.  Perhaps it’s a bit of an in-joke when Bobby, who is also his manager, criticizes Jackson the artist for stealing his “voice”. Cooper’s world-weary exterior is a physical transformation as well.  His complexion is weathered with a ruddy texture.  His skin blighted both by the sun and years of drugs and drinking.  Bradley Cooper isn’t afraid to look messy.

A Star is Born delights with the highs and lows of a melodrama that is a nothing less than solid entertainment.  The tale of these two people is a bewitching saga that allows the two actors to exhibit considerable chemistry as their connection develops over their love of music.  Their relationship is collaborative and fosters a more supportive connection than in previous iterations.  The first half is endlessly compelling.  The second is a bit less so.  Yet there are subtleties to the drama that make this interpretation of the classic chestnut something to discuss.

The narrative arc succumbs to the standard story beats that would be clichés to anyone who has ever caught an episode of Behind the Music on VH1.  As Ally’s popularity rises, Jackson’s declines.  The reason for the awkward growing tension between the two is a fascinating mix of factors.  Certainly drugs and alcohol derail Jackson’s career but his growing dissatisfaction is more complex.  Success changes Ally’s musical style.  Her appearance on Saturday Night Live performing “Why Did You Do That?” is presented as a pop-oriented betrayal of her authentic self, complete with outré makeup and hair.  I found the critique ironic since Lady Gaga the artist has never been one to tone it down. Jackson’s growing frustration with her success is certainly a reaction to this persona but there’s some jealousy in there too.  Jackson is torn because he’s losing the woman he knew to her growing fame, but he also doesn’t want to stand in the way of her success.  A slick manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) hammers this point even further.  There’s a lot to consider and the screenplay does a nice job at handling the many facets of a challenging relationship.

This is quite simply a love story.  It turns out the utter simplicity of A Star is Born is perhaps its greatest strength.  Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper have a chemistry together that is so palpable it carries the film.  Throughout it all, Lady Gaga sings.  Even Bradley Cooper manages to effectively deliver a few tunes (the Jason Isbell penned “Maybe It’s Time” is quite good).  Lady Gaga further solidifies her talent as an electrifying performer. She has a voice.  The soundtrack is full of memorable songs that highlight a captivating tale.  “Shallow” is the first single.  It’s wonderful, but there’s a handful of numbers that really catch the ear.  “Always Remember Us This Way”, “Is That Alright”, and the finale “I’ll Never Love Again” really stand out amongst a solid collection.  In the movie’s weaker 2nd half, the music is what keeps us enrapt.  Still, following the ups and downs of the melodrama is solidly entertaining.  Melodrama isn’t a bad word.  It simply appeals to the emotions while relying on tried and true plot developments.  A Star is Born does it well. The production manages to capture our heart while dazzling the ear.

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11 Responses to “A Star Is Born”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Yeah I agree. It is a formula film but done well so I enjoyed it. I was so excited to have good singers in a movie musical! I feel like that hasnt happened since Dreamgirls

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lady Gaga is a peerless talent so on her level – no, probably not. However Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights were on a level with Bradley Cooper.

      P.S. There are most certainly other examples of good musicals since then. One very obvious choice, but I don’t want to trigger that discussion. 😆

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      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Those are good examples. Most of the recent musicals are good in spite of the bad singers not because of them LOL (I’m still recovering from Beauty and the Beast and the autotune) 😉

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      • The Greatest Showman? Sing Street?

        I have a different approach to movie musicals that have relied on a long tradition of getting the “best performance” of a song. I mean (except for “Just You Wait”) Audrey Hepburn was dubbed by Marni Nixon in My Fair Lady (1964). I love that film.

        I’m usually ok with the fakery if it’s done well. Virtually all movie musicals are lip-synced anyway to get the best performance. I’ll admit that occasionally there are examples where the precision can get in the way. For you, it was Beauty and the Beast and I get that. For me, the songs in those Pitch Perfect films are overproduced and tweaked far beyond anything resembling a natural performance.

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      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Yeah I wish they did more dubbing like they used to do. Bring back Marni Nixon! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked reading your paragraph about how she got the inspiration to take the stage. Even if am not into music anymore, i still enjoy watching movies about musicians, whether fiction or not.

    Music and Lyrics was a fun romantic comedy that reminds me of the plot you described here. it’s a different movie off course. As for A Star is Born, I’ve only seen the one with Streisand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, thanks for mentioning the other three versions of this movie. Most people had no idea this was the fourth version. I’ve seen three of the four (haven’t seen Janet Gaynors), and I like them all equally. They all have touches of greatness that I enjoyed. This version is new and fresh, so I will remember this one for a while. Gaga/Cooper had such convincing chemistry, and their singing made the film awesome. 4 stars

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  4. “Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper have a chemistry together that is so palpable it carries the film.”

    Ya know, I hate to do this because it only adds to the hype (which has become pretty dizzying at this point), but I felt the romantic kinship here is one of the best Ive seen since Titanic. That is really high praise, I know, but I so loved these two together. Gaga impressed me more than Cooper tbh. Their chemistry pulled me through some of the movie’s slower moments. Also a big fan 0f the music here.

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