Movie Reviews: A Star is Born (2018)

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of this film, not because of its considerable prerelease acclaim, which has been substantial, but just so I never have to see that damn trailer again.  I’ve probably seen it something like two dozen times by this point in front of movies and was sick of its cloying quality after the first time.  But let’s not condemn a movie for its marketing just as I won’t condemn it for any comparisons to past takes on the story.  While I enjoyed the original version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, it’s not one I have any sentimental attachment to.  I’ve never felt compelled to check out the Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand starring musical versions since no parts of those descriptions appeal to me.

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After being handed my useless giant novelty pick and watching an insipid red carpet preview event thing (no trailers though!), it was on to the movie.  Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine, singer-songwriter, and very successful performer of mediocre modern country tinged rock, and alcoholic whose ears are failing him from tinnitus.  After a concert one night, he goes looking for a bar, any bar will do, and the first one he finds is a drag bar.  Inside he witnesses a woman performing a rendition of “La Vie en Rose” (easily the highlight performance of the movie).  Transfixed by her beauty and ability, Jack persuades the singer Ally (Lady Gaga and I especially like the nod to where her initial fans came from) to spend the night out with him.  Upon hearing her written music for the first time, the unbearable “Shallow” which gets worse on each listen, he pursues her until he draws her out for her big moment into the spotlight, the moment a star is born *makes myself groan*.

The basic story is intact from the original as we watch Ally’s star rise while Jack’s starts spiraling in parallel, the relationship between the two facing many challenges along the way from the contrast.  Granted, that is mostly on Jack’s end as he deals with jealousy, feelings of hurt that she’s “lost her way”, and his substance abuse issues while she just deals with putting up with his shit and the demands on her as she becomes a pop musician.

Which I guess is as good a reason as any to bring up the music and maybe I am not the best judge since this is decidedly not my genre of music, but I didn’t care for it.  Cooper’s work, written and supported on camera by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) & Promise of the Real is generally inoffensive, but Lady Gaga’s music sounds so disconnected from what I assume his fanbase would like (especially as time goes on) that it breaks much of the suspension of disbelief.  I know this could go for most musicals, but I found it a shame when the film would break up the story and make us watch another performance.

Cooper’s gravelly Sam Elliott aping voice is hard to take seriously especially since his half-brother (and manager/caretaker) is played by Elliott himself.  I get the in-universe reasoning, but it doesn’t make it, or the fact that his half-brother is played by someone over 30 years older (not impossible, but selling a connection between the two seems hard to believe) any more ridiculous.  Lady Gaga does fine work as Ally and while her and Cooper have good chemistry together, it is surprisingly her relationship with her father (played by Andrew Dice Clay of all people) and his friends that is the most entertaining.  Dave Chappelle is also in the movie.

The film has plenty of sweet moments of humor as it shines best in the quiet moments.  The one area it has clearly improved over the original is in crafting more complexity to the plot as opposed to the simple one rises, and one falls which allows for plenty of quiet victories and failures of varying sizes.  I was hoping for so much more from the visuals considering Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky’s primary cinematographer) was shooting the film (coincidentally he also shot this weekend’s Venom) but they are hindered by way too much lens flare.  Him and Cooper (making his directing and co-writing debut) have a good eye for the most part, it’s just extremely distracting

I know full well that there are plenty who will take to the film far more readily than myself.  Much of it certainly had a crowd-pleasing quality and those who like Nelson or Gaga for their music will obviously be more predisposed to it.  I see parts of what everyone liked in it and there would be times where I’d start to get involved, but overall, I left the film feeling pretty apathetic about the whole affair.