November 6, 2018 – I was not keen on seeing this movie, since musicals like this are usually over hyped and overrated to a high degree. That is also true of this latest version of the oft-told tale of a rising star in love with an aging star. Little has changed in the basic plot since the original film, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredrick March, lit up the screen in 1937, except that it was originally about Hollywood actors then and now it is about pop music idols (which is the same as the story used in the 1976 remake starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson).
This is the kind of movie that wins awards, since it portrays Hollywood types as tortured, but gifted, self-sacrificing artists with a bit of flawed nobility. The 1976 version of A Star is Born, for instance received mediocre reviews, but numerous awards, including an Academy Award and five Golden Globe awards.
The only thing new about the 2018 version of this film, the seventh by my count, is the music and the stars. Pop star Lady Gaga stars as Ally, the rising star, and movie star Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) plays Jack, the aging, alcoholic, drug-addicted pop music star who discovers Ally, encourages her, and then gets jealous when her career eclipses his own.
A couple of other key characters in this film are Jack's brother Bobby (played by Sam Elliot of “The Hero”) and a manipulative music agent, Rez (Rafi Gavron of “Snitch”) who signs Ally to a record contract, then becomes a Svengali, turning her into a dancing pop star rather than the independent, country-ish singer-songwriter she is at heart. Bobby, who is Jack's road manager, have a stormy relationship that includes heated arguments and a punch being thrown at one point.
While the story doesn't seem honest or believable, and the music is forgettable, there is an undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Lady Gaga on screen. The romance isn't believable, but both have winning personalities and they both sing very well. I was really surprised at how well Cooper sings, since he was not known as a singer prior to this film release. Lady Gaga (who wrote songs heard in this film) of course, is an accomplished performer and her talent really comes across in this film.
I really enjoyed this movie for the most part because of the fine performances by Lady Gaga, Cooper, Elliot, Gavron and Dave Chappelle (playing man of wisdom George ‘Noodles’ Stone). It packs an emotional punch because I cared about the characters. I was willing to follow these characters through their dubious romance and even more dubious marriage, right up to the melodramatic climax. This climax is no surprise. It is telegraphed well in advance (even if you haven't seen any of the previous versions) and is clichéd to the point of being trite. The ending, which comes a bit later, is not bad, however. The music, while not memorable (except, of course, for the classic song “La Vie en rose”) is tolerable.
This is a well-acted, directed (Cooper does quadruple duty as star, writer, director and producer) and produced film with high production values. It is very slick looking and the musical performances look and sound good (reportedly no lip-syncing). It is not a bad film, but does come across as well-worn, unoriginal (even though I've not seen the earlier versions) and overly clichéd. I particularly disliked the please, not this again climax (more on that below). This film rates a C+.
I am now going to reveal the climax of the film, which comes near the end of it. So if you haven't seen the film, you may want to wait until after you've seen it to read the essay that follows.
“A Star is Born” follows in a long line of films in which a main character commits suicide for somewhat noble reasons. As in the original 1937 film, a main character, Jack, kills himself rather than hinder the career of Ally.
This doesn't pass the smell test, since Ally's career was successful only in the most superficial of senses. She is being manipulated into performing music in a demeaning, sexist way. She is being molded into a drag queen-like caricature of herself, an outlandish and profitable imitation of other performers. Perhaps she isn't even playing the kind of music she really wants to play anymore.
Jack would have been more of a hero if he actually stuck around and fought to help Ally realize her dreams by resisting the music industry's efforts to mold her into a plastic replica of other pop icons. Ally is headed down the same path that he had traveled years before, but he is ineffective in his attempts to save her, or her art.
In the movie, Jack's suicide is portrayed as a noble self-sacrifice, as well as a result of his own psychological problems. This typifies Hollywood's warped portrayal of suicide as self sacrifice, noble and heroic. I don't think this is a healthy message. This is one of my pet peeves, going back to “Dead Poets Society,” “Million Dollar Baby” and other films employing suicide as a dramatic device in this particular way (and I am not talking about suicides that are truly heroic or noble).
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