Friday, 28 September 2018

A Star Is Born - Review


“Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave - 12 notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it”
If you boil it right down, the argument is that there are only seven types of story that are told (comedy, tragedy, etc), and one of them is A Star Is Born. That is why Hollywood continues to make this timeless story and ultimately it is down to the director and stars to put their own unique spin on the material.
What Bradley Cooper has done here in his directorial debut, and one hates to be cliche but it is like Simon Cowell on the X Factor would say, “You’ve taken that song that we all know and made it your own”.
For those who have not seen any of the previous versions and unfamiliar with the story, it centres around an established artist whose star is slowly fading due to age and troubles with alcohol. They meet an amazing talent who they fall in love with and help turn into a superstar. A star that threatens to burn so bright that they will be caught up in the blaze.
In this version it is country rock star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), who discovers Ally (Lady Gaga) singing in a drag bar one night after a show. He is utterly bewitched, much as the audience will be, by her talent. After a soulful and heartfelt “meet-cute” night, he invites her up on stage to sing one of her songs which he has arranged and the proverbial star is duly born.
Not only does Cooper’s character do this in the film but also in real life because with this film, Cooper is showcasing Lady Gaga’s incredible talent to the world.
Now I know what you’re thinking. We already know who Lady Gaga is. Well, you have never seen her like this.
It would not have been all that surprising if Lady Gaga had used her real name Stefani Gerrmanotta because this is an artist stripped of everything that made her “Lady Gaga”.
Gone are the catchy pop hits, the choreographed dance routines, the dresses made of meat. This is Gaga Unplugged In New York and she is utterly spellbinding and magnetic on screen.
A lot of the praise for the movie will focus on Gaga and in a case of life imitating art, it will be at the expense of B-Coop but nothing should take away what, for him, is a career-best performance.
I will admit that in the past I haven’t really got the praise for Cooper that has led to him being nominated for four Academy Awards. I mean this is “the guy from The Hangover”.
However he is superb as the grizzled veteran with the gravely voice who is destined to burn out rather than fade away.
During the opening scenes, his deep, gravelled voice was slightly disconcerting. It sounded so familiar, it was difficult to place. That was until his brother appeared, played by Sam Elliot. Cooper is doing Elliot’s voice, who accuses him of stealing his voice, and you can totally visualise him as a younger version of The Stranger in The Big Lebowski. You just keep waiting for him to call some “Dude”.
Not only is his performance on point but Cooper's direction is fantastic. He gives the musical performances (captured at real music festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella) an authenticity and intimacy. Traits that carry through to the relationship and chemistry between the leads.
There is also a wise decision to not rely on the social media narrative too heavily in the meteoric rise to fame of Ally.
It would have been too easy to have segments with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and TMZ commenting on "Who is she?", "Who is Ally?" etc along the fallout from the Grammys.
The absence of this keeps the narrative on how the ascension and decline of the star-crossed lovers affects their relationship. It also helps to avoid prematurely ageing the film, keeping some of its timeless quality.
The only bum note in the whole production is Rafi Gavron as Ally’s manager. It is understandable that they want to have a younger face, given the music industry as it is, however Gavron never truly comes across as credible and is certainly not imposing or threatening enough in the scenes where he tries to convince Jackson that he is finished with Ally. Cooper could floor him with one punch.
The end result is a near perfect cover version that is as good if not better than the original song.
Having remade A Star Is Born once, one hopes that if Cooper and Gaga take the stage at the Oscars next year, that they don’t recreate the James Mason/Judy Garland version as well.

4 stars

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