I know, I know.
We’re all tired of remakes but it seems like Hollywood wants to keep churning them out. While some remakes don’t translate well to current times, some have messages or a story that is universal. A story about someone pursuing their dreams never gets old. In this third remake of the original 1937 film, A Star Is Born is a romantically cool film with mostly beautiful music to carry it through.
Seasoned musician Jackson Mayne (Bradley Cooper) has reached the status of legend in the music industry; selling out concerts and playing his greatest hits to thousands of fans. Outside of the spotlight, Jackson is not perfect; he is fading by surrendering to vices and losing faith in good things. That changes when he meets Ally (Lady Gaga): a waiter with singer dreams. Together, they fall in love and tour the country while personal demons threaten their musical bliss.
Positive about this type of story: It can be classified as timeless. This is definitely not A Star Is Bored. Cooper’s Jackson Mayne plays bluesy- rock anthems to sold-out audiences, completing the look with a black cowboy hat and full beard. But once he’s backstage, you can see the sadness in the back of his chauffeured car. Meanwhile, Ally is a singer-songwriter working as a cater while feeding her passion on the side in a nightclub. Jackson stumbles into the club in search of more numbing juice the same night that Ally is performing and sees her (in a true Gaga-look). He’s enchanted by her voice; she’s flattered and confused by his interest. After spending one night together, they each have fallen a little bit in love.
This movie is a first in many ways. One such was Lady Gaga as a lead actress. Gaga’s first major film role was a major topic of conversation, and she certainly earned the praise. Her restrained, human-scale performance as a singer whose real-girl vulnerability is miles away from the glitzy meat-dressed performances of her on-stage persona. As an artist, they are all vulnerable in some way and I believe that Gaga tapped into her personal experience and vulnerabilities, elevating her performance as a serious actress. And the original songs (most of which Cooper and Gaga share full or partial credit for) are beautiful, memorable and melodic – but I could have done without the mainstream pop hits later on.
Bradley Cooper, also in his directorial debut, ultimately carries the emotional football over the full length of the movie’s field. His drawling, denim-clad cowboy poet is very much in the mode of Jeff Bridges Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart – a familiar archetype that feels like a sincere tribute that works at certain points, especially with co-star Sam Elliott, who plays Mayne’s much older-brother-slash-manager and appearing in pivotal roles.
Along with Sam Elliott, there were also some surprising supporting credits such like Dave Chappelle as an old Tennessee friend of Jackson’s, Eddie Griffin as a pastor-friend of Jackson, and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s Rat Pack-dreamer father. These characters are much realer and textured than the ones who are only there to move the plot along.
As far as behind the camera, it was clear that Cooper wanted to pay tribute to the naturalistic 70’s predecessor. From the start, the film does have an old Hollywood feel. From long highways to sun-flared closeups and colorful rockstar lights, he gives you a look into the road life of a successful musician, both the positives and negatives, while remaining intimately personal. Cooper’s camera works with a feverish intimacy, closing in on Ally’s rise while Jackson falls back into his dark corners with a bottle for comfort. This closeness also acts as a Mason jar that closes over the film, keeping the audience focusing on the couple’s growing disconnection ( and the lonely disillusion of fame) and the music taking a backseat.
My one negative is the run time. Going over the two hour mark, the film could have benefited from a small time trimming of at least fifteen minutes. But there is something gratifying about a major Hollywood production that moves the way this does, without forcing a musical excess with new characters and conflicts over the plot. While the early Oscar buzz seems premature, I don’t consider Star a myth but rather a classic, universal story that can be passed on to the care of the next generation to honor what came before.