Thursday, 11 October 2018

Film Review - A Star is Born (15)

You don't tell the truth out there, you're f**ked. 
Some stories bear retelling. The original A Star is Born was released in 1937 and has now been remade three times, each version following markedly similar plot beats, while reworking the premise for a new era. It's a simple tale - one that simultaneously celebrates and critiques the entertainment industry, and one to which numerous generations can clearly relate. All that's required is an imaginative repackaging and some contemporary resonance. Bradley Cooper's 2018 version has both, with the formidable addition of Lady Gaga and her stunning vocals.
Cooper is Jackson Maine, a straggle-haired and hard-drinking country-rocker riding out the latter days of his fame. Gaga is Ally, a singer and song-writer whose talent, however striking, has been passed over by numerous shallow music executives. Their chance meeting is fateful in more ways than one. The connection between them, fuelled by a love of music and stage performance, sparks an intense romance along with Ally's career in the business. But Jackson's inner demons (which are legion) and the forces shaping Ally's musical future threaten to rip them apart, heartfelt love notwithstanding.
There's an undoubted power in the basic story - a love affair between two performers whose career trajectories are moving swiftly in opposite directions. First-time director Cooper does much to invigorate the material, giving it a raw sense of reality throughout and never letting things topple too far into melodrama. These characters are believable, whether in the bravura musical sequences or the quieter domestic moments. The first act takes its time to establish the central relationship, before sweeping us on an edgy but exhilarating journey with these two, much of it filtered through Jackson's faltering perception. It's all very 2018 as well - contemporary music, Youtube and the slick product-packaging of the modern recording industry all grounding a well-worn narrative in the now.
But it's the performances that you'll remember. Cooper is a growling, shambling version of himself, but he exudes boozy charisma. He also proves one hell of a country-blues performer, like he's been singing and playing all his life. Gaga meanwhile gives a strikingly truthful portrayal of Ally, divested as she is of her real-life chutzpah and all the crazy costumes that go with it. There's a simplicity and humility to her waitress-turned-singer, which result in the best kind of X-Factor chills when she cuts loose in front of a microphone. Put these two individuals together and there's chemistry - both on-stage and off - to rival that of Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon in Walk the Line. Great too to see the magnificent Sam Elliott in a key role - strong, compassionate and with a voice that could now grate parmesan really fine.
As for the music, it turns the movie into this year's Greatest Showman - less family-friendly for sure, but full of memorable tunes and glorious performance moments, which compliment rather than distract from the drama. These are songs that (with one deliberate exception) come from the gut, conveying all the passion, pain and internal conflict of the leads. A Star is Born 2018 becomes much more than another retelling of the classic story. It's a modern fable of stardom - its glories and its pitfalls - and of the toll that fame threatens to take on two people's love for each other. And it works because it's told - on every level - in such an utterly convincing way.
Gut Reaction: A sense of sublime melancholy rather than some manipulated sob-fest. Two moments - Ally's first duet with Jackson and a night at the Emmys - got to me for very different reasons.

Where Are the Women?: Gaga exists in a very blokey world here, perhaps a commentary on how rock is still a resistantly male environment.

Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. Cooper's triple-role (co-writer/director/co-star) provides a searing authenticity throughout, as does Gaga's star turn. We knew he could act and she could sing. Turns out the reverse is also true.

1 comment:

  1. Your review is almost as good as the movie. Enjoyed both immensely xo