A Star Is Born 2018

TIFF Journal: A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born

Movie Rating:

3

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.

16 comments

  1. Bolo

    Sounds about right. I’m not expecting to be blown away by this movie. I like the previous versions, and I like Lady Gaga’s singing. So I’ll probably get my money’s worth.

    Dice Clay (along with everybody else) was good in ‘Blue Jasmine’. He definitely showed he can do decent dramatic work.

  2. I believe Bradley Cooper inherited this project from Clint Eastwood, who had wanted to do a version of it with Beyonce.

    I know that it’s the formula for this franchise to cast a major star (Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand) to play the ingenue, but I don’t see the point of it. We already know that Lady Gaga can sing. Wouldn’t it be better to cast an actual up-and-coming talent to let this be their breakthrough and introduction to a mass audience?

    It’d also be nice to have one of these with a gender swap so it’s not always a girl who has to prove herself to a man.

    • Timcharger

      “It’d also be nice to have one of these with a gender swap so it’s not always a girl who has to prove herself to a man.”
      Next thing you’ll say is that we can use an all-female heist caper or comedic paranormal hunters. Imagine thinking if a woman would make a better head of state one day. Crazy!

    • Bolo

      I don’t agree with your interpretation of the gender dynamic in this story. The whole point of the story is already that it defies conventional gender roles. The story deals a lot with emasculation. It’s always treated a source of embarrassment for the older male character that his younger female lover interest is outshining him, paying all his bills, and generally carrying him. If you wanted to swap the genders, it would have to take place in a culture where older women are expected to be the breadwinners and prestigious professionals who support younger men that are just expected to look pretty and be supportive.

      • Regurgitating a story about a man feeling emasculated by a successful woman seems ragingly sexist in this day and age, unless it firmly depicts him as a whiny manbaby who deserves no sympathy.

          • Bolo

            It just sounds like you want really simplistic characterization. If you want the male character in this movie to be an outright villain, then skip it (which you were probably going to do anyway).

            The self-destructive male character is certainly supposed to be frustrating in his weakness and self-pity, but he’s also got to have some charm and redeeming qualities to earn some sympathy so that we don’t just hate the female character for not dumping him.

            So yeah, don’t see this movie.

          • This dynamic of the female ingenue and the tortured older male genius/mentor has played itself out a thousand times before in a thousand different movies. I don’t see any need to trot it out again without a major shake-up in the formula.

            So, no, I don’t plan to see this.

          • David Krauss

            “Only the Judy Garland version…”

            In my mind, there is no other version. Garland’s take is definitive and timeless. The fact that she didn’t win an Oscar for it remains, as Groucho Marx so eloquently put it in a telegram to Garland following the ceremony, “the biggest robbery since Brink’s!”

          • Thanks a lot!
            ‘It was then the largest robbery in the history of the United States’
            Check. Probably something every American knows, as part of your history and heritage. Which may explain my oversight. Thanks! I love to learn new trivia every day.

          • Timcharger

            Julian: “Probably something every American knows…”
            Please Julian. Don’t give us that much credit. I’m learning spectacularly new trivia everyday too. I never knew how tremendous, how bigly, how greatest of all time, most stable, best you ever known things are today. Exciting times.

          • Bolo

            I’m not American, so I can’t say whether or not this piece of heist history is taught in schools there. But it’s an interesting caper, and now you know it. Cheers.

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