Tuesday 23 October 2018

Movie Review: A Star Is Born (2018)

A musical drama and romance, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born is a slick package but adds precious little to the oft-told story.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a hard drinking country-rock music star, still packing arenas but well past his creative prime, and suffering from worsening tinnitus. One night after a show he stumbles into a bar and catches a performance by Ally Campana (Lady Gaga). Entranced, they talk through the night. She reveals her insecurities about her looks and unwillingness to perform her own material. Ally's father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) is a chauffeur and wanna-be crooner who believes he could have been another Sinatra.

Jackson invites Ally to his next concert and insists she perform a song with him on stage. The clip goes viral and soon she is part of his tour, their romance blossoming as her reputation grows. Jackson reveals his own troubled upbringing in Arizona, and his strained relationship with his brother Bobby (Sam Elliott), now his tour manager. Music producer Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron) spots Ally's potential and starts packaging her into a superstar, straining her relationship with Jackson, whose drinking gets out of control.

Directed, co-written and co-produced by Cooper, the latest version of A Star Is Born is a grand exercise in quality film making, but nevertheless fails to justify its existence. After the 1937, 1954 and 1976 versions, it is difficult to imagine what more can be added to the narrative. And sure enough the 2018 go-around settles down to a straight forward regurgitation, most closely resembling the 1976 edition, thankfully absent anything resembling Streisand's frightening ego.

Despite the unnecessarily overlong running time of 135 minutes, Cooper demonstrates good directorial touches and avoids getting bogged down in any one mood for too long. He has less success with the unmemorable music, a combination of bland and generic, and overall the film carries less of an emotional punch due to the ease with which Ally gains her stardom: being thrust onto a stage by a superstar in front of a ready-made audience of 100,000 fans in the digital age is not exactly the most arduous route to stardom.

More troubling is Ally's journey from talented singer-songwriter with a unique appeal to the prepackaged and generic gyrating entertainer she turns into under the suspect tutelage of producer Rez. It may be that the road to a Grammy in 2018 means spouting nonsense lyrics while dolled-up to look like every other manufactured airhead, but Ally never even pauses to question her trajectory.

In her film debut Lady Gaga ironically shines in the early scenes as the wide-eyed ingenue, but is less effective and often just surly when Ally's stardom takes hold. Cooper is excellent as the fading Jackson Maine, and the balanced emphasis on the two leads is one of the strengths of the 2018 retelling.

The romance is familiar and suddenly fiery when it suits the script, the idea that trouble may follow  obsessive drunkenness and career divergence seemingly catching Jackson and Ally by surprise. Jackson's deep backstory related to his relationship with his father and brother carries good weight, and with Sam Elliott in good form, more time could have been invested in this aspect.

A Star Is Born provides glossy, loud and overblown entertainment. The movie is tolerable, but the story is just tired.

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