dir: Bradley Cooper
A Star Is Born is probably the movie I heard random people talk about the most last year, with the possible exception of Bohemian Rhapsody and, in my case, as in, the film I bored people to death talking about, being Black Panther. I know that lots of other films came out, movies even, and a few pictures. But very few of them resonated or seemed to matter that much to the multitudes.
And that’s just, like, my opinion, man. The advantage Rhapsody had was everyone over a certain age at least in the Western world knows all of those songs. Lady Gaga, maybe not as much. But she’s here with her pop vocal stylings and affectless facial expressions, in this most recent telling of the age-old story: previously successful man on the way down boosts the career of an unknown young ingénue, falls in love, is then pushed down the stairs in order to make way for youth. It’s a story as old as time, or at least since 1937, when the first movie version of this came out. There’s also the legendary one from the seventies with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand. Really, it’s a heart-warming tale because it can be told over and over again.
I don’t know why Bradley Cooper decided he had to direct it, but he did, and he managed to do a bang up job. The film is always in focus, there aren’t too many shots of boom mics and not too many people walk into walls or trip over props. Sam Elliot is also in this along with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I am glad to report his mustache is very big. Phew! No one likes seeing Sam Elliot without his mustache, especially Sam Elliot.
Speaking of Sam Elliot, Bradley Cooper adopts a kind of southern drawl that makes me think not of an actual Southerner, but of Jeff Bridges (though not as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, because that would be way too symmetrical). Though even if Bradley Cooper is incomprehensible much of the time (he also pretends to be drunk most of the story, unless he went Method and actually got drunk all the time in order to really capture the essence of the character), his soulful eyes and the beard do a lot of the acting for him.
Lady Gaga pretty much has two facial expressions. One looks like perpetual mild shock, the other doesn’t, but they’re not that different from each other. She also, at one stage, does my absolute favourite thing in the world, which is to keep one’s face completely impassive, but to expel through a tear duct exactly one big fat tear, leaving face and makeup entirely unaffected as well. Only one, though, none of this two tears, one from each tear duct bullshit, absolutely not!
The very first scene has Jackson Maine (Cooper) playing fairly somewhat 90s-sounding music to a large crowd at, as far as I could tell, one of the stages at Coachella. That’s a pretty big achievement. I’m not sure it really conveys that his career is in the dumpster, because Coachella’s a pretty big deal. I don’t know for a fact that the gig was meant to be Coachella, but anyway. He’s popping pills and drinking hard liquor just like all the cool kids do, but he has a fairly breezy time of it. We sense, of course, his deep-seeded pain, or boredom with “the life”, or both.
He accidentally stumbles into a drag club which, in a real turn up for the books, they absolutely love having a woman dress up as a woman, as in, Edith Piaf, and belt out La Vie En Rose at the top of her lungs. Ordinarily they’d frown upon it, you’d think, but they make an exception for her because she has such a wonderful voice. She is of course the Barbara of the piece ably played by Lady Gaga, or Stefani as her parents know her. I know this is the height of childishness, but I would just like to point out that I pronounce her name with the emphasis on the second syllable, so whenever I talk about her to other people, they’re always correcting me as if I don’t fucking know how most people pronounce her name, and they’ll say “Isn’t pronounced GA-ga?” and then I feel compelled to lie “I think you’ll find she actually pronounces it “ga-GA!” like galah” which is of course a total fucking lie.
But I digress, and with no real reason, payoff or punchline. Lady Gaga goes from a fairly incompetent waitress with an abusive boss (though she does get to wear the finest waiter’s uniforms I’ve ever seen) to megastar in the space of about half an hour of screen time, and about half an hour even within the film. All it takes is Jackson to become besotted with her, hear her sing once, and transform a snippet of a song she wrote and sings for him in a car park into an actual song that his band somehow already know how to play less than a day after. I guess they’re just great, professional musicians, not like all those other losers.
I think, if I can put my cynicism aside for just a second, okay, even if the notion that someone who’s a big star or a has been could bring someone up on stage, who then eclipses them within days is unbelievable, but it’s not really the point, is it? We’re meant to care about what happens to these crazy kids, whether we believe in the relationship between the main characters, whether we believe in their excitement or their pain. And the thing is, as anachronistic and unrealistic as it all seems, and maybe as silly as it might be to cast someone who’s already a pop star playing an up-and-comer, it works, it totally works. Gaga might not have much range, but she has enough, and she’s totally and completely alive when she performs, there’s no second guessing that. I don’t know if it’s great acting or even acting, but it’s enough.
Her relationship with her dad is an enjoyable one as well, played as he is by someone who should have no right to ever be in anything good ever again. Andrew Dice Clay, who none of you should remember from such films as The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and from the pinnacle – nadir of 1980s stand-up where he embodied all the worst sexist, chauvinist and abusive traits that stand-up has tried to move on from since then (he was considered awful even in a time when “everyone” was doing it). If anything, and this is going to be a bit of blaspheming here, though Sam Mustache Elliot got a nomination, I would say Clay’s role was more enjoyable or integral to the story. He’s the one supporting his daughter, and trying to inspire her to dare to dream when he’s spent his life in proximity to ‘greatness’ but never attained it himself. It’s one thing to have driven Sinatra around as his limo driver: it’s another entirely to see your daughter grow so huge in the music industry that she ends up duetting with Tony Bennett.
Watching and listening to the flick hasn’t inspired me to listen to any more Lady Gaga than I ever listened to before, nor has it really led me to appreciate her more, but I do appreciate the ‘package’/ that this flick represents, and I was moved by the story, predictable as it might be to anyone who’s seen the other versions.
I am also, I have to admit, kinda bored of the trope of the tortured alcoholic creative person who stays an alcoholic and decides never to change out of loyalty to his own suffering or his backstory. Jackson here is pretty much on a particular trajectory, and it gets fleshed out for us as to why, but I find it a tad – I don’t want to say lazy, but – fucking lazy. Also, older guy ‘inspired’ by a much younger female ‘muse’? Come on, Hollywood, haven’t we reached the stage where this isn’t allowable anymore because Woody Allen ruined everything for everyone, not least of which for the kids he was meant to look out for?
I guess I can’t really bring up Woody Allen in this context, because if he had been involved the main character would have been a novelist in his 70s called Jacob Manheim, and the Gaga character would have been 17 and an aspiring journalist, and Jacob would have been murdered by his jealous ex-wife (who’s naturally in her 50s), and then the young ingenue would have gone on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but only because sleeping with the old wretch inspired her to steal his last manuscript, which of course is a masterpiece. Anyway, now I’ve worried myself into thinking this is his next movie, so I should move on before I’m contacted by his ‘people’ for a meeting.
The main couple come alive when they’re on-stage, when they’re performing, they give it their all. Any arguments about chemistry fade away when we see them on stage, and they’re alternately so charismatic and odd/magnetic that you can’t help but feel like they belong together.
The contrived fight between Jackson and his father-figure played by Sam Elliot about Jackson’s actual piece of shit father? That scene was pure, uncut contrived bullshit, and rang so fake I wanted to throw my whisky bottle at the screen. But I enjoyed almost everything else.
A Star Is Born, but eventually they go supernova, so, you know, you’ve been warned. It’s a pretty nifty flick, oddly crowd-please, resolutely mainstream, but that’s not always a bad thing. There’s a reason so many people have enjoyed it, and I think mostly it’s because it’s so solidly made, even if it’s built entirely from clichés. Maybe it’s the songs, maybe it’s the romance, maybe it’s the aspirational “maybe I could become famous too?” that fuels the viewership of almost all reality tv programming. Or maybe they just like seeing attractive people in the bath together.
8 times I would say more about this movie or its songs but I’m afraid I’m too Shallow out of 10
“I think you might be a songwriter. And don't worry, I won't tell anybody. But I'm not very good at keeping secrets.” – A Star Is Born