Fourth time’s a charm Latest version of A Star is Born a breakthrough for both actor and director
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/10/2018 (1581 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
1937. 1954. 1976.
Consider the context of the past three versions of A Star Is Born, and it turns out it has actually taken a long time to come up with a new version. It’s been 42 years since Barbra Streisand took on the role of a brilliant singer who is first helped in her career by her lover, only to outshine her mentor in her own skyrocketing ascent to the Big Time. Before Streisand, it was Judy Garland and before that, Janet Gaynor.
A Star Is Born
Starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
● Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital
● 136 minutes
★★★1/2 stars out of five
Even so, this new version seems cannily timed. Reality TV has prepared the palate of contemporary movie-goers for a good old-fashioned showbiz melodrama.
Take these basic elements: Musical talent. Career ascendency. Romantic tribulation. If you took The Voice, The Apprentice and The Bachelor and put them in a blender set on frappe, you’d have something that very much looks like the plot of A Star Is Born, 2018.
Bradley Cooper does triple-duty as director and co-writer and also starring as Jackson Maine, a countrified rock star whom we meet in concert, charming an appreciative audience with seasoned performance chops. (Since Cooper himself can’t boast that kind of experience, he is impressive in this department.)
Post-gig, he gets in a limousine on a search for booze that takes him to an unlikely venue: a drag club. It’s a set-up for an interesting meet-cute with Ally (Lady Gaga), a full-time waitress and part-time chanteuse who sings the hell out of La Vie en Rose in the safe space of a stage where her gender is not exactly guaranteed female.
Jackson is entranced and the two venture out into the night. They click, possibly over their mutual neediness. Ally needs to be convinced of her talent. Jackson needs to get off the booze-and-pills regimen on which he has subsisted for too long.
Taken under Jackson’s protective wing, Ally’s talent starts to soar, to the joy of her father Lorenzo (peaked-in-the-’90s comic Andrew Dice Clay, acquits himself nicely in a dramatic role). But despite the caretaking of his elder half-brother/manager Bobby (Sam Elliott), Jackson’s career starts an inexorable slide that even the loving Ally is at a loss to prevent.
Even for those who may dread the prospect of a romantic musical melodrama, the film impresses. Cooper’s approach is the polar opposite of the gorgeous artifice of George Cukor’s 1954 classic with Judy Garland. Cooper opts for an immediate, documentary-style approach to the performance scenes. (Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who shot Black Swan, knows a thing or two about getting maximum dramatic effect from hand-held camera work.) The songs by Lady Gaga don’t exactly qualify as show tunes along the lines of The Man That Got Away, but they apply maximum pop torque to the movie’s emotionally charged foundation.
The casting of Lady Gaga was wise. When Clint Eastwood was on board to direct this project, he had considered Beyoncé and Esperanza Spalding for the role of the up-and-coming singer. Gaga brings a necessary awkwardness to the role that connects her to both Garland and Streisand, both unconventionally attractive. The odd-duck thing is pretty vital to the character.
Let’s face it: Would anyone really buy into an insecure Beyoncé?
Yet one senses Gaga is stuck in the dynamic that presumably existed with Cooper as her director. She is at her most assured in scenes when she works opposite him. When he is offscreen, her performance feels weirdly hobbled.
Nevertheless, one can’t help being impressed by Cooper’s achievement here, making this chestnut of a story feel fresh and vital.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
A Star Is Born, is simply terrific — a big-scale cinematic delight that will have the masses singing, swooning and sobbing along with it.
— Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press
Passionate, emotional and fearless, the gangbusters A Star Is Born is poised to become the movie of the moment — the one everyone has to see right now.
— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
In the next A Star Is Born we surely need a story reborn. This one is getting past its reincarnate-by date.
— Nigel Andrews, Financial Times
When it hits its highest, most resonant notes, Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born achieves a triumphant, romantic ache that is often just what we want to experience at the movies.
— Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair