Saturday, October 6, 2018

Fourth's Time The Charm for A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born 2018 movie review
Warner Bros Pictures
Every twenty years Hollywood has reinvented A Star Is Born, a seemingly timeless story where a veteran star’s fame declines as he falls in love with a newcomer who rises to the top. From earning standing ovations at film festivals around the world to epic word-of-mouth on social media, director Bradley Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga has earned acclaim for his directorial debut with the reboot of a tragic Hollywood fairytale. With so much hype surrounding the musical-drama-romance, the fourth A Star Is Born remake not only lives up to the hype but worth all its weight in gold and then some.

I don't consider this review full of spoilers, but if you're not familiar with the full A Star Is Born plot, it might be spoilerish. 

a star is born 2018 movie lady gaga bradley cooper
Right out of the gate with the film, Cooper does not come to play as a director, song producer, or an actor. Literally taking the audience on stage with him, A Star Is Born kicks off with Jackson Maine (Cooper) rocking out to beloved fans - his passion, talent, and struggle are fully on display. More than just the actor bellowing out a song he wrote while filming, in just a few minutes the character of Maine and his relationship with Ally becomes clear: he's an accomplished star who's lost his way squaring off against drugs, alcohol, and losing his hearing as he stumbles to perform his classic hits. Ally, on the other hand, is a struggling waitress who's given up on men and her future; she's settled with the idea of how far she's going to go. As he looks for his next hit in a small-town bar where her pipes blow the house down, you sense the way she sings, how the camera focuses on Maine's wonder towards Ally and her sheer talent as Maine later describes "is the thing of the angels", they might just be what the other person needs to make their worlds a little less empty.

Cooper's acting is immediately one of the most electric elements about his film. When you look at Maine, you don’t hear Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket Raccoon. Gone are the days of The Hangover or Wedding Crashers. Strongly reminiscent of his character work in David O’Russell’s Silver Lining’s Playbook or Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, Cooper seamlessly shifts himself into the character – the greased out hair and beard, patent leather country/rock clothes, burnt-out grovelled voice; every time he turns his head to try to hear what someone is saying as his tinnitus grows stronger; the way he looks at Lady Gaga's Ally with pure joy, you can feel Maine's love for her burst through the camera. There's a few sides of him - the dedicated performer, the tortured artist, the warm mentor, the loving countryman. And then there's darker underbelly, where he drinks and performs until he disappears, where his past and complicated relationship with his brother/manager (Sam Elliot) invites his drunken jealousy or stoned carelessness to take over. He's running out on his career before it gives out on him; you fall in love with him but also can't help but feel your heart break too.
Tell me somethin' girl Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more Is there somethin' else you're searchin' for?
Tell me something boy, Aren't you tired tryin' to fill that void?
Or do you need more Ain't it hard keepin' it so hardcore?
The film couldn't have Maine without Ally, and Cooper finds the a good partner in Lady Gaga making her film debut. Taking on the vulnerability of A Star Is Born's past Esther Blodgetts - given life to by the charming Janet Gaynor, the powerhouse Judy Garland, and songstress Barbra Streisand - Gaga takes exactly what she knows as a musician and strips it down to give us someone who inspires Maine, faces-off against him, and loves him despite his flaws. Gaga has made a career of morphing from medium to medium, genre to genre, and this role fits her like a glove. Musically, she's unparalleled right now in and out of Hollywood. Though her acting performance doesn't quite match up to her pipes, she sheds almost every indication we might have of her before, she makes Ally down-to-earth and forgiving; someone whose dreams are coming true but it's not exactly the way she planned or hoped for.

a star is born 2018 movie lady gaga bradley cooper
Throughout the first hour of the film, and even the entire film itself, Cooper assures us that, despite Maine's addiction and their careers going in different trajectories, they truly love each other - they're vulnerable and open to each other, falling in love all over the world as they perform for his concerts and he gives her the spotlight to premiere new songs. Every conversation shows their fears, their hopes, and struggling to find equilibrium. Every single song reflects where they are and where they're going, it's easy to forget that this is a two-person musical by just how much story pours of the lyrics. No matter how familiar you are of the tragedy ahead for Maine and Ally, it's only halfway through the film it becomes obvious that the clock has been ticking on their relationship all along. The first obstacle their connection tries to overcome his addiction, but the other becomes the music industry and the challenge to be truly who are you without compromising or losing your identity.

That Arizona sky, Burnin' in your eyes
You look at me and babe, I wanna catch on fire
It’s buried in my soul, Like California gold
You found the light in me, that I couldn’t find
Always Remember Us This Way

A Star Is Born exceptionally explores why/how Maine and Ally grow distant - they are on the opposite ends of the spectrum meeting in the middle. He has always had a talent for singing and playing the guitar, but his struggle with mental/physical health and addictions as far back as being a kid makes it next-to-impossible for him to accept where he is in life; in a lot of ways, he's always been on borrowed time. Meanwhile, Ally, on the on the other hand, is at the start of her career - she has a voice and also trying to figure out how to channel it. For as good as it is to see Maine perform at his deepest level with her, Ally's destined for bigger things.

Opportunity knocks for Ally when she first meets Maine, and the ways he shows how much he believes in her - not just how turned on he is by her nose but her real god-given talent. When Maine tells Ally to trust her and come on stage with him to sing her song, his trust is legitimate; it's genuine; it's a safe harbor that breeds creativity, freedom, and worthiness for both of them. Song after song they duet with each other like Johnny Cash and June Carter, and we know as early as Ally's entrance in the film of what she's capable of. When opportunity knocks again, it's in the form of business manager who wants her to trust his instincts but he doesn't really see Ally for who she is; it's a moment that takes your breath away because you know this is when she starts to part from Maine creatively and the easy assumption that the industry will try to make her something she's not proves to be true. As much as Maine might've given her the keys to the kingdom because he wants her to have them and takes joy in her success, part of her journey is finding herself and holding onto it no matter what.
"Almost every single person I've come in contact with in the music industry has told me that they liked the way I sounded, but they didn’t like the way I looked.”
The film shows a strong duality between the two of them: how his life starts falling apart from failing to live up to his own expectations and how she is becoming more accomplished and struggles to oppose what her manager whats her to do. Ally's rise to fame isn't too dissimilar from Gaga's own story of fame and its monsters, which acts as meta throughout. Her own experiences are an interesting place to pull from Ally; it never becomes too forced but raises questions about the autonomy of women as artists and what they want to express vs what the industry turns them into. It also adds a different twists on the previous A Star Is Born films where in the 1937 and 1954 films Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland's Esther Blodgetts succeed as actresses, purely diamonds in the rough who take over Tinseltown meanwhile Barbra Streisand's Esther Huffman doesn't struggle with someone else controlling her image. Alley's journey of finding herself is interesting than its counterpart films; she goes from accepting her fate as a could've-been-someone-great, to finally having that final epiphany of who she is and what her voice stands for. She might lose Maine, but she never loses the faith he had in her.

a star is born 2018 movie lady gaga bradley cooper
Following in the footsteps of three classic movies is no easy task, and what inspired Cooper to take on such a big vision for his directorial debut is mind-boggling. His and Gaga's efforts to pay homage to the earlier versions but creating something new is nothing short of beautiful and heartbreaking.

Out of all of the remakes so far, Cooper pulls the most inspiration from the 1976 film, and honestly makes it much more palatable and satisfying. Even though the previous alternative had all of its ducks in a row by headlining Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and shifting the story from focusing on the film industry to the music business, the film reeked of its seventies style and ego: the stars had poor chemistry, artistic differences between the director and its leading lady is downright palpable, and the story strings along from one unmemorable scene to another. This doesn't just kick your emotion's ass from Maine's opening concert to Ally's final number with honest emotionality and riveting music, it wipes the 1976 version off the map, easily becomes a favorite alongside the 1954 remake, and honors the limited capabilities of the original 1937 film that started it all.

I want you To look right in my eyes
To tell me you love me To be by my side
I want you At the end of my life
Wanna see your face When I fall with grace
At the moment I die, Is that alright?
Is That Alright?

This A Star Is Born transcends what Streisand's vision couldn't. The acting itself is just the start of what makes Cooper's entry as one of the best for this series. Its script shows real care and attention to both Maine and Ally, as Cooper and Gaga's trust and friendship created a gorgeous soundtrack and story. As well, the movie includes many easter eggs from the former A Star Is Born movies without making the insertions unnatural or obvious. Cooper, in particular, not only manages to lose himself in his role, but doesn't show any ego or vanity as director - he blends several genres together - romance, musical, tearjerker, rock fantasy to create a fulfilling and electric movie that will stay with you as long as the other films have done.

What isn't right about this movie? I can think of very little - maybe one scene in particular that I won't spoil here. Some critics seem to want to find something wrong with Cooper's choices for Ally or Lady Gaga - everything from not making Maine blatantly full of toxic masculinity to making Maine's mental health and addictions more refined. I don't think there's any anti-feminist messaging going on here like Cooper being anti-make-up or trying to solve Gaga's identity crisis, and some critics are grasping for straws.

This A Star Is Born had a real chance of being completely unnecessary, especially since Hollywood has an infatuation for rebooting everything under the sun just because they can. As big of a fan as I was of Cooper and Gaga before this film, I try to consider if the hype is worth it - I think it is. From their love story to its disintegration to Ally becoming a star, I smile, I sing-along, I laugh, I fall in love, I cry, I cringe, I'm shocked, I'm saddened, I'm blown away by what they've made together. For a story as old as Hollywood itself - eighty-one years old and still going strong, Cooper proves that just because the film industry can reinvent a classic doesn't mean they should: it's what someone does with a reboot that makes all the difference in the world. And I don't know if another version could ever get much better than this.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen A Star Is Born? What did you think?

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