MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
If you have never seen or heard anything about the 1937 film version of this story or its two musical remakes (with Judy Garland the star in 1954 and Barbra Streisand in 1976), A Star Is Born may offer you something new. But – then again – there is little that should surprise you, since aspects of this classic storyline have been used countless times in dozens of other films. Basically, it’s the story of a famous celebrity discovering a new talent, falling in love with his star, and then experiencing her fame grow as his star slowly sputters out.
Bradley Cooper is at the helm of this movie (he not only directed and stars in his film but also is credited as the co-writer of the script as well as several of the songs) and it is clearly a labor of love. Persuading pop superstar Lady Gaga to take on the role of Ally was a masterstroke; her performance is the touchstone that makes everything work so well, and Cooper is generous enough to give her room to demonstrate her talent (although anyone who has been to one of Lady Gaga’s concerts knows her ability to put on different personas in the service of her music).
Cooper’s character is Jackson “Jack” Maine, a singer-songwriter whose reputation attracts fans to concerts. Maine knows that his best days are behind him and his struggles with alcohol and drugs are taking over more of his time than ever. Fortunately, he has a brother/manager (Sam Elliot) and some close friends who still watch out for him, but it’s a losing trajectory. Until the night when Jack wanders into a bar to hear Ally sing “La Vie en Rose”. Their eyes lock and they are intrigued with one another, although their first attraction is primarily respect for each other’s musical talent. And so, it goes.
The script goes to great lengths to explore Jack’s backstory of family trauma (shared with his brother) noting that it is this kind of pain that often informs memorable songs. The film’s music (with the exception of an unconvincing and irritating “hard rock” song at the beginning) is pretty good. Gaga’s voice is as powerful as ever and Cooper is a good singer and believable in his musical numbers.
I just wish that there was more character development in this movie. Maine is a broken man throughout and Ally’s decency approaches sainthood; their characters are parallel lines that sometimes touch but never cross into each other’s world.
A Star Is Born is quite a good movie that will likely have its cult of fans (I’m partial to the Judy Garland film), and that’s fine with me. I’m hoping that its success might initiate a moratorium on future incarnations, but I rather doubt it. What I do know is that Bradley Cooper can direct and Lady Gaga can act; I look forward to future projects from both of them, for this is a movie in which two stars were reborn.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: A well-made entertainment that travels down some familiar pathways.
Two pitchforks: Pervasive swearing, excessive drinking and alcoholism, occasional abrupt violence, the briefest of nudity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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