A Star Is Born
Some people probably thought that three separate versions of A Star Is Born were enough. Not Bradley Cooper, though. He decided that the world needed yet another version of that timeless tale of one star being born and another being destroyed, a miserable musical journey of alcohol abuse and showbiz silliness.
From the outside, it felt like a horribly unnecessary idea. In fact, it was a bit of a laughingstock in some places. But not in Bradley Cooper’s brain. Somehow, against all odds and logic, the actor-turned-writer/director delivered a remake of a remake of a remake that’s actually worth watching.
In addition to co-writing and directing, Cooper stars as country rock star Jackson Maine and belts out some tunes as well. His music speaks to the people, but unfortunately booze speaks to him just a little too much. He’s a drunk and a mess whenever he isn’t on stage making magic happen. The story kicks off with him drunkenly stumbling out of a concert and into a little drag bar where he spots Ally (Lady Gaga) doing a rendition of “La Vie en Rose” so good that it makes the country star cry. (Awww, Boozy McBooze still has feelings!). So he does what any drunken and smitten music star might do; he hangs out with her all night, gets her to play a tune, realizes she’s a genius and falls in love. Next thing you know, he practically shoves her onto the stage during his next gig and Ally steals the show. Soon, they’re lovers and touring together. Jackson stops drinking and Ally signs her own music contract, and what could possibly go wrong? Well, if you’ve seen any previous version of A Star Is Born, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how the story might go a little topsy-turvy.
Here’s the thing: There are many ways in which the general plot of A Star Is Born remains timeless despite the fact that it was initially conceived in the 1930s. It’s one of those “sad but true” kind of things. All that differentiates the movies are the cast, the entertainment industry weaved into the plot, and the era. This time around, we’re back in the music industry. Intriguingly, this version actually does a better job representing the music industry than the one from the ’70s headlined by twice as many musicians. Perhaps the cocaine budget was too big on that production because it was an insane exaggeration even by cocaine standards. In this one, things actually feel a bit more grounded. The songs are decent – not classics, but decent. That certainly helps because any movie that centers on music that rocks the world with tone deaf garbage on the soundtrack has a tough road ahead of it.
As usual, the cast is star studded. Lady Gaga makes her big feature film acting debut (vamping through Machete Kills wasn’t quite the same) and proves to be a surprisingly natural and grounded presence, especially in the not-so-comfy confines of melodrama. Bradley Cooper is also quite good as the damaged lead, particularly once you realize he’s kind of supposed to be doing a Sam Elliott impression as a plot device and not by accident. (Yes, really.) Sam Elliott is in it as well, by the way, playing Cooper’s older brother and clearly angling for some Best Supporting Actor nominations. He’ll likely succeed, too. The guy has always been good and this is the right kind of flashy small role in a middlebrow prestige movie that tends to muscle its way to awards glory. (Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle also pop in for their own “pay attention to me” supporting turns. Both are good, but you can’t top Sam.)
It’s actually one of the better casts of any edition of A Star Is Born to date. That goes a long way. Cooper not only handles his cast well as a director, but also does a fairly impressive job of telling the story for a novice filmmaker. The movie moves fast and crams in a lot of story and plenty of songs without feeling rushed. Bradley Cooper might actually have a future as a director. That’s a strange sentence to type, but it’s true.
Ultimately, how well A Star Is Born: Here We Go Again will work for you depends entirely on your patience for sitting through this same story again (not to mention this type of middlebrow melodrama). If you’ve never encountered any previous version, you might well be blown away. (There’s a reason filmmakers keep wanting to redo this thing.) If you know it well, you won’t find many surprises. Cooper doesn’t really add any new shades to the 80-year-old tale. He just gives it a fresh coat of paint and casts every role well. If that’s enough for you, buckle up and get ready for the feels. If not, be prepared to feel intense déjà vu in between marveling at the bizarre sight of watching the Dice Man give sincere fatherly advice to Ms. Gaga. That’s a pretty surreal moment in movie history.