A Star Is Born: Fourth Time is Not Quite the Charm, But Still Works (Spoiler-Free)

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.

… Gets less use than this one, though.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

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.

Can we just mention that they are both super talented for a second? Because they are.

END SUMMARY

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.

And, my God, do they rock the hell out.

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.

You guys get Marge isn’t the best model, right?

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. 

That’d be the year before women were considered “People” for minimum wage purposes.

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.

It’s a start.

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.

20) Rick James (Chappelle’s Show)

There are moments in time when you find yourself witnessing something so strange, but so monumental, that anytime you are reminded of it, it pulls you back into the state where you first experienced it. And one of those moments for me was hearing “I’m Rick James.”

RickJames.jpg
No you’re not, I am. And you know nothing of my work.

Chappelle’s Show was amazing, partially because Dave Chappelle is a hilarious comedian, and partially because he walked away after two seasons, giving up millions of dollars, but saving us the inevitable decline in quality. The comedy was usually poignant, socially aware, and funny as hell. He invented Clayton Bigsby, the black White Supremacist. He got the Wu Tang Clan to open an investment bank. He created the show Trading Spouses. That one’s not even a joke, that became a show after Chappelle did the sketch. Oh, and he made Wayne Brady look less like Bryant Gumbel and more like Malcolm X. All of these moments would not have worked on any other show and, if not done as well as Chappelle did them, would have accomplished the opposite of what Chappelle hoped.

LilJon
And he made us aware of the plight of the hearing-impaired rapper.

In 2004, when this episode aired, internet video was still in its infancy. If you wanted to steal a song, that was now possible, but pirating movies would take you a month. Streaming was barely off the ground. YouTube didn’t even exist yet. However, the short clips from this episode, containing some of the iconic phrases within it, managed to be the exact length that people could host on their own web pages, allowing this to be one of the first videos to truly go viral. To put in perspective, YouTube’s founders had difficulty finding the SuperBowl Halftime video of Janet Jackson, leading them to decide to create a video hosting site. This was 10 days later, and the clips from this episode were hosted an estimated 1 million times that year. It was just the right thing of the right size at the right time to cement viral video. So, that’s a big cultural contribution right there. But, in addition to that, this episode is also freaking hilarious.

SUMMARY

There are a total of two real sketches in this episode. The first is the “Love Contract,” which is funny, because hey, it’s a contract to avoid sex scandals and also to preserve your reputation when your lovin’ just ain’t up to par. That’s pretty amusing.

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This is now a real product

The second, however, is “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” Charlie Murphy is Eddie Murphy’s brother, and, supposedly, has been witness to some truly hilarious Hollywood events. One involved the late, great, Prince beating him mercilessly at basketball. This one was never verified. The other was this episode, depicting multiple interactions between the Murphy brothers, mostly Charlie, and legendary, also deceased, superfreak Rick James.

RickJames2
“Burned Out” is a reaction, right?

 This one is about as confirmed as it gets, because Rick James himself agreed to appear in the episode. He also appeared to have been high while filming his parts of the episode. Or perhaps after his years of substance abuse, some level of buzzed was just his default state. Whatever the reason, it made the show all the better to see Rick James’s reactions to his own past.

chappellesshowrick.jpgSo, the stories are basically about times when Rick James (played by Dave Chappelle) would do something crazy, like come over and wreck Eddie Murphy’s couch, and then Eddie and Charlie Murphy would beat the crap out of him in retaliation. Then, usually, Rick James would realize he’d gone too far and apologize, at least once by convincing several women to have sex with Charlie Murphy. When asked why he did these things, the real Rick James could only deliver the singular truth, “cocaine is a hell of a drug.”

END SUMMARY

Part of the beauty of this episode is that, by intercutting Dave Chappelle playing Rick James with the real Rick James, it really sells that all the over-the-top crazy that Dave throws down is true, even if much of it was comically exaggerated. It manages to present the old adage, that truth is stranger than fiction.

PREVIOUS – 22a: Adventure Time

NEXT – 19: Fawlty Towers

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.

The whole episode is on Comedy Central if you have a provider that lets you watch it, or here are some parts: