A Star Is Born : Movie Review
2.75 stars out of 5 (Almost Good)
Director : Bradley Cooper
Cast : Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
A Star is Gone (after constantly threatening a snooze-fest).
That is the predominant sentiment after watching 'A Star Is Born'.
Lady Gaga shines the brightest here. Bradley Cooper proves to be a competent story-teller. Next time, he can aim to be a memorable director and a less egotistic one.
The story is the third remake of a template ( the 1954 version starring Judy Garland is the best known one) in which a young talented female singer is helped to stardom by another star singer whose own arc spirals down with his alcoholism.
Cooper in his directorial debut manages what very few films in the history of cinema have ever accomplished. After the initial sequences where you're coming to grips with this new spin, the tone and pacing is so sedate that every new frame threatens to lull you to sleep but there manages to be some shred of honesty and composure in each scene which gently lifts up your eyelids. It takes real talent to do that.
And throughout this relentlessly medium-voltage piece that lacks the nuances and vision to propel a deliberately understated technique, a subtle chauvinism is at play. Cooper directs and also plays the male lead himself, and the coverage skews towards him more often. This would have been slightly more tolerable if his was a terrific performance but he is merely good while the more promising persona of Ally essayed by Lady Gaga is delineated less. The dynamic between them is under-explored and the finale, though predestined to be dark, ultimately peters out as an anemic fait accompli.
Much bolder would have been the decision to cast an unknown young lady and to actually see this film in real life propel her to fame, mirroring the screen story. But never underestimate mainstream Hollywood's cowardice. In comes Lady Gaga, a superstar in real life, her music a world-wide phenomenon , her financial worth a mere $ 300 million. Hollywood execs knew she is not half-bad as an actress and so did first-time director Cooper. Result - $ 225 million within three weeks of release from a $ 40 million budget .
Pick kicks off as famous country-music singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), high on booze and drugs, somehow rocks it on stage and then stumbles off after the performance to get his full-blown fixes. He spots Ally ( Lady Gaga) in a small joint and is impressed with her crooning and winsome personality. He leads her by hand to all his stage performances and makes her sing in front of thousands. A music company honcho signs her up and thus starts her ascent. Jackson, after subconsciously ensuring that his lineage is indirectly continued, stoops deeper into his alcoholic vortex, losing his loyal no-nonsense manager and eventually his career. Ally and Jackson's togetherness is also marred by repeated show-downs where he successfully comes off an alcoholic ass, bitter and jealous.
Admittedly there are very few false notes in the movie, but some severely tax credulity. There's the nice touch about the choice of material with which Jackson fashions his proposal ring and when he blithely offers marriage, Ally accepts with broad smiles and an instant ceremony ensues. From what we have known of her she is a cautious young lady , and certainly she sees how the alcohol soaks Jackson but there is not a murmur of circumspection in her rapid acceptance. It rings false, cynical hopes of alimony notwithstanding. The next morning, one expects her to see sense and file for court, citing irreconcilable differences but no such luck.
Jackson's drunken spells have no emotional impact. One remembers the magnificent miasma of alcoholism that pours forth like an ocean of pathos in 'Leaving Las Vegas' with Nicholas Cage's outstanding performance. There is no such wrenching depth here and one sees Jackson boozed out of his mind perpetually without feeling much sympathy for the man. When sober, he is a warm likeable guy, like a muffin - you remember the last time you went absolutely mad for a muffin ?
The scene where Jackson fastens a bag of frozen peas over Ally's bruised hand while she chuckles amusedly at this first-aid after a round of impromptu singing , is a deceptively excellent sequence - unhurried and life-like in its gently involving dynamic. But then the lack of modulation in the narrative's tenor then starts to weigh awkwardly. Their starting chemistry aside, the film then slacks off and there is very little genuine romance even when alcohol is not at play. There are stray emotional touches like the emotional injection in Sam Elliott's eye whites when he reverses to drive away after Jackson eventually reaches out to him, but by that juncture the narrative listlessnes is already looming large. Ally is quietly spunky throughout and her character does not come across as one which will easily let her husband go to the dogs, but there is precious little her character is shown to do when her husband goes into free-fall.
Which leaves us with Lady Gaga. I received my first strong reminder to see this film when she was a guest on my favourite The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She did not shy way in that show from firing a political missile at mega-clown-cum-American-President Donald Trump. That courage and verve is also evidenced in the persona she embodies in A Star Is Born. There is a winsomeness to her innocent disposition, further enhanced by a sensuality in her face all tied together by a strong core of positive temperament. Twice as much material should have been assigned to her persona here. A writer and director will hopefully ensure that when A Star Is Really Born.
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