“A Star Is Born” And Tears Are Shed
Have you seen “the movie of the year”? Or maybe one of the three, other versions of the now-classic tale of a man discovering, then creating, a woman star who subsequently outshines him? No matter, I’m here to break it all down for you.
First, I’m not entirely sure I would have gone to see the new “A Star Is Born” remake if I didn’t have MoviePass. That said, MoviePass fucked me and I wound up paying out-of-pocket to see it since I was already there and had just paid subway fare commuting to the theater. Also, a film-buff friend of mine had raved about it, and despite his poor judgment about some other films, Blade Runner 2049 for instance, I was motivated by his passion and so matinee attendee I became.
Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a drunk and pill-head megastar musician; Lady Gaga plays Ally [I don’t remember ever hearing her last name], an angry waitress who occasionally sings on stage at a drag bar she frequents with her gay BFF. Jackson discovers Ally after stumbling into said bar looking for more gin and bing bang boom he pulls her onto the stage at some huge concert to perform with him, she becomes a big star, he becomes a bigger mess. He winds up embarrassing her at the Grammys, checks into rehab, gets chewed out by Ally’s manager, and then kills himself to keep his problems from holding Ally’s starship back any further.
Songs and musical performances. Case in point, right now I’m listening to “Shallow” on Spotify, where I’ve downloaded not one, but two versions of the soundtrack. Holy fuck I can’t remember ever so immediately falling in love with original movie songs; the lyrics, the arrangements, the vocals, just wow — not only amazing movie songs, amazing songs in any context. And who knew Bradley Cooper could sing?! And play the guitar? Kudos sir, I believed every second and I’d totally pay to see him perform live. We already know Lady Gaga is in possession of some major God-pipes and so her skill wasn’t surprising, but it was extremely satisfying to see her demonstrate the extreme depth of her talent. The material she was given honored her vocal skills in ways her radio pop just can’t match.
Lady Gaga’s acting. Much in the same way I believed Bradley Cooper as a rock star, I believed her as a legit actress. The majority of her emotion is expressed through the musical performances, but she was consistently solid the whole way through. It’s almost a sure bet that she’ll be nominated for Best Actress and rightly so; her soul is on display for the duration of the film and she deserves the recognition for an incredible performance. I don’t think she should win but maybe someday; I’m interested in how well she’d do in a feature that has nothing to do with singing.
Pacing and emotional impact. This movie was 2 hours and 14 minutes long and I am surprised to say I wished it was longer; the time flew by and I was left wanting more more more. It’s a testament to Bradley Cooper’s skill as a director for such a lengthy movie to remain engaging and stirring from start to finish. So stirring in fact, that I probably spent a quarter of the runtime crying, but then again I’m a weepy sap and it’s possible my reaction was not typical.
Lack of character development. This story is centered around Lady Gaga’s character Ally, rising to fame and becoming the star she was always meant to be and yet, why? What is her backstory? Why was she so angry? What prompted the musical choices she made once she became a star? So much of her character’s plotline was shallow and lacking in context. Ally is introduced as this soulful songwriter with powerful music and lyrics and then all of a sudden she’s dying her hair some bullshit fake orange-red and writing all these basic pop songs as a “star.” I’m willing to concede that a portion of her evolution as a performer is a comment on how the industry perceives and cultivates female versus male talent, but still, how did she get there?? I wanted so much more explanation and depth, and it just wasn’t there.
Use of supporting cast. Some of the smaller characters were fantastic, most notably Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father and Sam Elliot as Jackson’s brother, but others were flat and felt like cheap filler attempting to make up for the lack of main-character development. Ally’s best friend/colleague appears prominently in the beginning and then magically appears near the very end as if he’s been there the whole time but why? Was their connection related only to work? What did they actually like about each other? We only see superficial evidence of their relationship and it never fully jives with the story. I had similar feelings about the drag bar crew, who Ally FaceTimes with while blossoming as a star, but we see little to no evidence of how and why they are so important to each other. Then there’s Jackson’s driver, who could have been an interesting character, but instead felt like a placeholder, so one-dimensional and forgettable that I have literally nothing else to say about him.
Suicide footage. This is a nitpick, but for as well-crafted as the entire suicide sequence was, I was so irritated when Jackson’s swinging legs appeared. The shot came in the middle of what was a subtle and moving set of moments as if the audience was too stupid to figure out what had happened without that in-your-face depiction of his death.
Overall the movie is a win and definitely worth seeing. It’s emotionally moving, well acted and has the most stunning soundtrack since Yentl. You could definitely wait till it hits the small screen, but seeing it in a theater will let the music hit you in the gut, which is what I recommend. Also, bring tissues.