An Old Voice Finds A New Voice: A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born updates a story that has been told many times before (including the 1932 film What Price Hollywood?, which some contend served as a basis for the 1937 movie, as well as the 2013 Indian movie Aashiqui 2). In the fourth A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard-living, hard-drinking singer who doesn't always enjoy his success. After a concert, Jackson instructs his limo driver to take him someplace that serves drinks. He takes the singer to a bar on drag night, where he becomes impressed by Ally (Lady Gaga), a restaurant worker who once worked at this bar, thereby letting her perform on such a night. She wows the crowd, especially Jackson, who gets a word with her. He learns she writes her own material, and decides he's going to add one of her songs to his set. Jackson invites her to his next show, and eventually coaxes her onstage. She soon gets to sing more of her songs with the band, which gets the attention of Rez (Rafi Gavron), who takes charge of a career where Ally is the star.
The two remain close, but Rez takes Ally's career in a more pop-oriented direction. Without Ally on the road, Jackson goes back to heavy substance use. He also ignores his issues with hearing loss, in spite of criticism from his manager and half-brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott). One day, after missing a concert of Ally's, he finds himself in the yard of his old friend George "Noodles" Stone (Dave Chappelle), who used to be on the road as much as Jackson. Ally is eventually contacted, and comes off the road for him. In spite of his drinking issues, she marries him that day. After that, Jackson checks into rehab as Ally resumes her tour. When he's released, Rez wants the Grammy-nominated Ally to go on a tour that includes Europe. When she balks at this extended tour, Rez has some words with Jackson.
A Star Is Born, as a title, has a history dating back over eight decades. William Wellman filmed his version in 1937, and my favorite among the ones I've seen is the one George Cukor directed starring Judy Garland in 1954. Wellman won an Oscar for his writing on his film. Other famed writers who've had a hand in the story over the years include Dorothy Parker, Moss Hart, and Joan Didion. Cooper holds his own on both fronts in his debut as both a director and scenarist, sharing writing credit with Will Fetters and Oscar winner Eric Roth. The one problem I have with the script is that it doesn't do well explaining why Jackson and his camp didn't do more to immediately bring Ally under their management. I know the writers stuck with the basic story and its main conflict, but they needed a better way to bring Rez into this conflict. Still, Cooper crafts a compelling love story about two people who needed and deserved some kind of good break.
Before this movie, Cooper had not distinguished himself as a singer, and Lady Gaga had not distinguished herself as an actress. These leads show they can handle singing and acting well, which enhances the credibility of the performances. Cooper, as Jackson, still makes his shows, but his issues make him dangerous. He makes a living based on past success. Meeting Ally ignites a creative spark that had been going through the motions. In spite of that, Jackson often doesn't do what's best for Jackson. Lady Gaga, As Ally, shows that she's heard the excuses from music executives about her ability, making her tentative about her talent. Her performance of "La Vie En Rose" shows that others foolishly failed to look past an appearance they felt wasn't fitting of a potential singing star. As she learns about Jackson and his problems, she never fails to be anything but loving and devoted. Elliott, Gavron, and Chappelle offer fine support, as does Andrew Dice Clay as Ally's supportive father, Lorenzo. Singers Halsey, Marlon Williams, and Brandi Carlile make cameo appearances, as does Alec Baldwin. Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) and his band, Promise Of The Real, play the members of Jackson's band.
Before remakes hit the theaters, I usually wonder why someone would want to remake a film that has been critically successful in the past. A Star Is Born is one of those films, though, that can change with the times. When the story has focused on a rising singer, a singing star of the era has stepped into the lead role. In Cooper's hands, one singer shows she can defy the industry's expectations of image, while the other shows he still has something for his fans. This version sticks to the basic story and packs it with plenty of emotion and music. Both Cooper and Lady Gaga add a new dimension to their careers as they show that some truths in the entertainment industry never change.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give A Star Is Born 3.5 stars. Cooper goes Gaga for Ally.
A Star Is Born trailer
© 2018 Pat Mills