‘I’ ON CULTURE
It really is great to report that we have a big hit movie without people flying through the air or becoming mutants. The new remake of A Star is Born is a big, splashy soap opera hit. At my screening, the audience applauded at the end of several musical numbers and then at the end. This is the fourth time around for the film and it is in contention (with the 1954 version) for the best. It is a classic story of a star-crossed entertainment couple, one on the way up and the other heading down.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a drunken, occasionally stoned, singer who can still bring in the crowds. After downing a lot of booze after a concert, he has his driver pull up at a club so he can drink some more. He discovers it is a gay bar but stays for the drag queen show. Suddenly, Ally (Lady Gaga), who despite being neither gay nor a drag queen, shows up and sings a fabulous version of “La Vie en Rose.” She and Maine go for drinks elsewhere, and he hears her do a bit from a song she’s written, her hidden failed dream being to become a songwriter. The next day, she gets invited to a Maine concert, is flown to it on a private plane, and from the wings hears him do an arrangement of the song she sang a bit of to him the night before. She joins him on stage and is suddenly a hit.
She joins him in bed, in love and in the shows — and they are a gigantic hit. Her father (Andrew Dice Clay) and his buddies are thrilled to watch her on YouTube. But a top producer, Rez (Rafi Gavron), gives her the opportunity to become a superstar. Soon she’s pushed to become less authentic, to become (ironically) a polished product like, well, Lady Gaga. Jackson is left behind and hits the bottle and the pills. His brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) and old friend George (Dave Chappelle) try to talk sense to him. Eventually, as Ally becomes a superstar, Jackson’s career implodes.
It’s soap opera territory, but first-time director Bradley Cooper keeps things moving quickly. Remarkably, there are few wasted scenes, as right from the start you can see the impending disaster. The film is long but doesn’t seem that way because everything seems so vital to the story.
Cooper is helped by a superb cast. He is exceptional as the haunted, driven Jackson. He has his demons and reveals them, particularly in his scenes with Elliott. Their dynamic is tough, yet the caring always comes through. He sings pretty well also. Right from the start, Jackson is a believable tragic hero, and he keeps the relationship with Ally on a good path as well. He knows her talent from the start and nurtures it. He even eventually understands that he loves her.
The real revelation is Lady Gaga. She is in a tough place: she is the third singer in the role, and the first two were Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, two voices of their respective generations. But Gaga has some set of pipes! When she begins to sing, there is none of the artifice that has come across in some of her staged performances. There is simply a glorious voice. And she does a really good job acting. A movie star has been born, and her name is Gaga!
The rest of the cast provides wonderful support. Clay is a revelation as Ally’s father, giving the best performance of his career. Elliott is his usual superb, laconic self. Gavron is very good as the ruthless producer, who wants success for his client at any cost.
In an era where most of the hits come from the supernatural, it is a pleasure to be able to sit back and just be entertained. Is this the best score of any of the A Star is Born films? I liked the one in the old Garland film, but I knew some of the songs. Just about all the songs in this one were new, but I did like them.
Is this film the best? It certainly is the best for this time, fitting in well with our times. This is a good one to see as a couple.