Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2018
Directed by
Bradley Cooper
136 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Star Is Born, A (2018)

Synopsis: A country rock musician, Jackson”Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper), helps a young singer, Ally (Lady Gaga), an aspiring musician working as a waitress to find fame, even as his alcoholism sends his own career into a downward spiral.

A Star Is Born v.2018 could have been a disaster. Medium wattage screen star Bradley Cooper debut directing himself in a remake of a Hollywood classic with pop diva Lady Gaga stripped of her stage persona making her first screen appearance opposite him.  What couldn’t have gone wrong? 

Surprisingly, shame and dishonour have not only been avoided but the film is set for box office success and even more surprisingly has been lavished with critical praise.  The former I can understand for though the film is loud, slick and platitudinous as a quarter-century updating for the American Idol generation of a tried-and-true chestnut it is suitable enough. The latter, however, mystifies me.   

In what appears to be a canny move Cooper’s film is not an updating of either the 1937 Janet Gaynor-Fredric March original or the benchmark1954 Judy Garland-James Mason remake so much as a reboot of the 1976 Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson version (Jon Peters, the producer of that movie has an executive producer credit here) that misguidedly shifted the story from Hollywood to the music industry.  I say canny because although that film was artistically a travesty it was commercially very successful, being the third highest grossing film of the year. Such are the sort of figures Tinseltown admires and this remake has been in the pipeline since 2011, with Clint Eastwood initially attached to direct, Beyoncé as the rising star and various big names including Johnny Depp (if only!) for the downward spiraller.   Cooper, who starred in Eastwood's 2014 film American Sniper and who apparently has long nurtured a desire to direct, ended up in the helmer’s chair and he convinced Warner Bros to cast Gaga.

Both individually and as a couple the two work well and Cooper is effective if unremarkable in his directorial role although, particularly in the latter stages, he gives too much time to Cooper the actor. The fundamental problem with the film, however, is that it reproduces the incongruity of musical styles, and thereby, personal sensibilities that marred its predecessor. What, in reality, would attract a hard livin’ rock star to a young woman some twenty years his junior with a taste for camping up Edith Piaf torch songs for her gay friends. You might say, the booze and loneliness. But on her part?  It’s pure tosh. Tosh most evident in an early scene in which the night after they meet, having flown her to his gig in a private jet, Jack drags Ally onstage with no warning to perform one of her songs as a duet for which he’s written the arrangement overnight and the band plays note perfect. Come on!

This lack of contextual credibility dogs the romance which is the film’s real mission.  If you can’t buy the former the latter can only fail to engage. Thus, Jack is supposed to be some kind of iconic rock star, as instantly recognizable to Ally’s gay buddy (Anthony Ramos) as to a middle aged black woman in a convenience store.  But does that kind of rock god even exist anymore in our fragmented musical landscape?  Perhaps if he was Bruce Springsteen but he’s more of a cross between Keith Urban and Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake from Crazy Heart (2009). It simply doesn’t fly.  In no time Jack has Ally on stage with her piano as a co-performer.  Not only is the audience equally smitten by her but the band, remarkably, has nothing to say.  Like, sure, that would work.  Ally is literally appropriated by a high-powered English manager (Rafi Gavron), who promises in the old-fashioned way to make her a star and before you can say “Svengali” Ally is going down the Madonna-Britney Spears packaged pop path and picking up Grammys.  But what happened to the integrity which appealed to Jack and which is one of the film’s core themes, risibly communicated by Jack to Ally on the verge of superstardom with the words “if you don’t dig deep into your soul, you won’t have legs” (as he supposedly does so but is legless for much of the film, that’s even less meaningful than he intended).And where did the supposed show-stopping, got-you-by-the-throat concert hall final number 'I'll Never Love Again' complete with a string orchestra come from? Like everything in the movie it just happens because the script says so.

In brief,the film’s aspiration to tell a story of poignant star-crossed love is waylaid by its adherence to the conventions and clichés of the musical genre, a contradiction papered over by Matthew Libatique’s glossy cinematography and the film’s high production values.  The songs, written by Cooper with Gaga and others and with Cooper doing his own singing are, however, largely forgettable. Only her version of ‘La Vie En Rose’ and a brief excerpt of a cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ stand out.

One of the film’s many problems is that while we get quite a bit of backstory to explain Jack’s troubled being, Ally’s character is sorely under-developed. We never understand why Jack would be so appealing to her in the first instance or why she would throw him over to pursue the kind of manufactured fame that he would, and does, scorn.  Yet against my expectations, Gaga is probably the best thing about the film. Stripped of her outrageous show-girl image she gives a touching performance that in its mixture of vulnerability and independence recalls that of Garland in the George Cukor version. Neither actress has screen starlet looks (Garland notoriously had studio-induced body image issues that contributed to her ultimately-fatal drug dependency) and so must engage us with her emotional projection which Gaga does despite lacking Garland’s experience as an actor.

The film does touch on some interesting material as it, as it were (literally so, albeit coyly, in some scenes), undresses Gaga to reveal the plain Jane underneath the packaging, while at the same time turning Ally’s working class waitress into, a pop princess. There is an opportunity here to reflect on the sorry state of contemporary pop music but sadly the film doesn’t go anywhere near that.  Nor does it bring out the key theme of emasculation. Clearly this was more of an issue in the 1930s, 1950s and even the 1970s than it is in our polymorphous times (the famous "I'm Mrs Norman Maine" line is dropped here rather than updated). Thus it is significant that Ally’s bosom buddy is gay and that she surrounds herself with drag queens. Jack’s story is so unaffecting because in effect, when they meet, despite his two-quarts-a-day machismo he’s already lost his balls and for the rest of the film is only going through the motions of decline.

O.K. Enough is enough. A Star Is Born v.2018 may well turn out to be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the year but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good film.  If you’re curious, go see it, then rent the Mason-Garland version. If you’ve already seen that film, you’ll know what I mean.  

FYI: The original screen version of the story was George Cukor's What Price Hollywood? (1932) starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst