In A Star Is Born, people keep insisting that music is not about talent, but that it has something to say. But this is a daring refrain for a melodrama that does not have much to say. He shows the turbulent relationship between a singer who is on the rise and another who is on the decline. It's the fourth movie to use the same plot and title, so it could be categorized as a remake of a remake of a remake. But since there is virtually nothing that was not there in the previous iterations, it is hard to see what has caused this particular reformulation, and even harder to think about it, without the concept of "vanity project" coming to mind.
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A Star Is Born is directed by Bradley, co-written and co-produced by Cooper, who plays a self-destructive but divinely talented and principled rock god. If it has anything to say, it might just be that Cooper loved to be a musician if the acting did not work out.
He is not as convincing in character as Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand – not surprisingly, considering that one of the two men was in The Hangover and the other was one of Janis Joplin's biggest hits Has. But Cooper has a mighty performance as Jackson Maine, a frazzled rocker whose grungy cowboy image is equally equal to Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Jim Morrison, and whose low, faded voice suggests he has taken class teaching Sylvester Stallone
Gaga is appealing, open and down to earth in her first major role
We see Jackson for the first time, beating back pills and alcohol before playing a guitar riff so loud that it pokes you in the mouth Chest. He gives everything he has on stage, which means that nothing is left to him except the piercing whine of tinnitus and a desperate need for strong alcohol. After the concert, he stumbles into the next bar, where he discovers Ally, played by Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. Ally is a waitress and aspiring singer-songwriter who has been repeatedly told that her nose is the wrong shape for the music industry. Jackson wants to be different. When she airs La Vie en Rose, she is shown in a series of sensual, stunning, intimate close-ups, while Jackson keeps looking, his eyes sparkling, dazed, and embarrassed by how moved he is. Whether you believe in love at first glance or not, you can believe it happens during this magical sequence.
Jackson then tells Ally to come with him to another bar, and the movie becomes a Cinderella story, in which Cooper's character is both a godmother and a handsome prince. Ally sings a few lines of a song she has written, and before they know it, she is flown to a stadium gig on the private jet so she can duel with him in front of tens of thousands of fans. It's only a matter of time before a good-natured British manager (Rafi Gavron) promises her the world by signing with him. And it's only a matter of time before he turns her into a pop pin-up with dyed-hair and aerobic choreography – much to Jackson's drunken disapproval.
The scheming manager is such a cliche that he might as well be Soulless McMoneybags. And when he seeps into the picture, the lack of insight and details of the script becomes obvious. A Star Is Born takes terrific care and attention to showing the night when the lovers meet in the city and crumpling together, but after that she flips across the rest of her professional and private life as if she were looking at someone else's vacation photos would flee. It never looks exactly who they are or what they want.
Although Lady Gaga needs to learn more about pop superstars than most of us ever want, the movie is cunningly vague about why the largely passive Ally succeeds or how long he does it. Weeks? Months? Years? Her blurrily outlined rise to fame seems to involve no record managers, press interviews, or selfie-demanding fans. Meanwhile, Jackson's career is as unclear as hers, as his backing band disappears without a trace, when he is not on stage and his entire management team corresponds to a loyal right-hand man (Sam Elliott). Only Jackson's alcoholism feels believable and painful enough to be pulled out of life rather than being traced back to other warning showbusiness stories.
It's disappointing, but A Star Is Born has hit a few high notes. Most of the tracks are from Gaga, and her latest ballad will surely get the best original Oscar nomination she's so obviously looking for. Gaga may even get a best actress. Certainly, in her first major role, she is so appealing, open and down to earth that she deserves her selection of gangster films and romantic comedies. Last but not least, a movie star is born.
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