I’m gonna go ahead and give up my man-card at the beginning of this review by admitting that I’ve seen all of the previous versions of this film except for the Bollywood Remake, which is on my to-do list. I’ve seen the original from 1937 by David O. Selznick starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the 1954 version with James Mason and Judy Garland, and, of course, the 1976 version which features Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. All of them share a lot of plot elements and general structure, basically forming a screenplay Mad Libs that the writers plug different scenes into, but one that usually produces a decent film.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a famous country singer who is a serious alcoholic and drug addict. After a show, he wants a drink, so he pulls up to the closest bar, which happens to be a drag club where he witnesses a performance by Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress with the voice of Lady Gaga. He spends the night trying to seduce her before hearing her sing a song she wrote. The next day, he sends his driver to bring her to the show, where he brings her onstage to perform with him. She wows the crowd and, as the title of the movie would indicate, a star is born. The two start a romance as her career gets hot, but at the same time his career starts to go into decline. Some stuff happens involving music and alcoholism and urination.
This was Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and, I’m sad to say, it kinda shows. There are a lot of pretty things borrowed from other movies, but a bunch of the techniques used don’t necessarily fit with what the shot was supposed to convey to the audience. A big one that bugged me is that the back of people’s heads keep taking center frame. In most films, this represents the audience being excluded from the conversation or something being hidden. In this film, it just feels like someone stepped in front of the camera. There are a lot of cuts and camera angles and scene framing choices that just had me going “was that supposed to be art, or did someone accidentally hit the camera?”
A notable exception, however, are the music scenes in the movie. He nails almost every scene involving someone performing, which, fortunately, is a lot of the movie. You feel like you’re there, right next to the singer, feeling them pour their heart out into the song, which is impressive given how much variety there is in the music, particularly compared to the Streisand version.
The acting by Bradley Cooper is phenomenal and his singing was surprisingly amazing. I’d say that it’s unfair for one person to have that much talent, but he’s standing next to a musical prodigy. Lady Gaga’s acting is good. She’s no Streisand or Judy Garland or Janet Gaynor, but she doesn’t get completely overshadowed by Cooper’s performance either. Her singing is best described as “come on, it’s Lady Gaga, you know her singing’s phenomenal.” Her broad range of compositional and musical talent gives her character a lot of credibility by proxy when it comes to what she can do on stage. However, nothing can really help the fact that I kind of hated both of their characters.
Cooper’s character is every stereotype about the drunk, drug-addled, always-indulged rock star, including the tragic backstory. Gaga’s Ally is weirdly immediately on board with almost all of Cooper’s terrifying dysfunctionality which made me think either she has no self-esteem (which the movie implies at several points but doesn’t really explain) or that she is just using him to get famous (which doesn’t really match any of her actions). I think the movie’s trying to say that she just loves him, but she apparently doesn’t love him enough to address the fact that he’s a literal fall-down drunk.
I mean, absolutely no one tries to stop his substance abuse or his constant impulsive bad decisions. It starts to get ridiculous, even for celebrities, because all of the people around Cooper are old friends and family, not just roadies and executives. Johnny Depp is apparently killing himself as we speak, but that’s because the only people around him are people he pays. Hell, two of the people who most lament his condition but never do anything for it are his brother (Sam Elliot) and his best friend (Dave Chappelle). But Gaga’s character really doesn’t seem to care at all until it becomes inconvenient for her.
Let me put it this way: SHE DOES LESS TO TRY AND HELP HIM STOP BEING SELF-DESTRUCTIVE THAN THE WOMAN IN THE MOVIE FROM 1937.
I realize that giving a female character agency just for the purpose of using it to help a man isn’t great, but it’s worse that I still think the film from the Great f*cking Depression actually gave the woman more agency. Ally just seems to go along with whatever Jackson wants until, again, she decides it’s inconvenient for her to deal with his shenanigans. That’s not love, that’s f*cking enabling. Hell, *MINOR SPOILER* Ally doesn’t even get a last name in the movie until the end. *END SPOILER* She also gets pushed around a lot by her manager, who she only stands up to in the form of compromise until he tries to put her in an untenable position.
So, ultimately, here’s my breakdown of the film:
Music parts are great. Acting is very good. Direction is okay. Characters are poor. Ending is solid, but it’s the same as it is in all the other versions of the movie, so if you’ve seen those, you already know it.
It’s still worth seeing, if only for the performances and the soundtrack, but don’t inconvenience yourself too much for it.
And now, I have a horde of angry fans coming for my blood and must build fortifications around my house. Fun times.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.
2 thoughts on “A Star Is Born: Fourth Time is Not Quite the Charm, But Still Works (Spoiler-Free)”