Skip to main content

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born
(2018) 

(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.


Indeed, one of the areas Warner Bros and MGM can probably bank on is that vast swathes of the audience will know the basic premise but probably not have seen any of the earlier versions. Considering the property is such a tried-and-tested no-brainer, it's taken a remarkably long time for this iteration to reach the screen. The last version was more than forty years ago (and was only beaten at the box office that year by Rocky), and the hugely expensive 1954 version, a slim 22 years prior to that, was in the top ten for its year. But one thing the ’76 version wasn't was critically acclaimed, and Clint's patchy directorial touch didn't exactly invite confidence when this latest update was first announced in 2011 (it initially had Beyoncé attached). Then the untested taking on by Bradley Cooper, on starring, directing and (co-) writing duties gave pause for entirely different reasons. That he's succeeded with a largely untested co-star (no doubting her consummate stage presence, but American Horror Story wasn't necessarily the first port of call for evidencing ability to run a gamut of emotions).


Somehow, though, it almost all comes together. Cooper, with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, cherry picks the 1954 and 1976 screenplays (most notably, the music scene setting is all from the latter, with earlier movies focussing on a budding actress), but there's no sense of this being a cut-and-paste exercise. That's probably at least in part due to the keen eye Cooper has for verisimilitude. In the concert scenes we're right there on stage with the performers, and in the relationship scenes we're up close and personal, the director knowing the value of uninterrupted, raw, intimate detail (he and Gaga have terrific chemistry). 


Indeed, I knew the guy could act, but there's been nothing hitherto (and I'm well aware of his three Oscar noms for acting) that gets this revealing. His functional alcoholic performance as Jackson Maine put me in mind of Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas at several points – albeit, for all Jackson's downward spiral, A Star is Born never revels in its misery the way that movie does – by way of voice coaching from Jeff Bridges (but more intelligible). It's like he ate twenty packs of cigarettes doused in whisky for breakfast every morning to prepare for the part. He acutely captures – with subtly amidst the more attention-grabbing crutches – Jack's pure vision for shepherding Ally's talent and the tip into jealousy and self-ruination that follows.


Lady Gaga, despite playing the title character, isn’t granted quite the same degree of depth and exploration as Ally moves from waitress ingenue and victim of nosephobia to sudden star and then reactive wife. In the first half of the picture – the virtually flawless part – we feel there's equal weight to the experiences of both, particular when it comes to scenes such as her nerve-wracking first stage appearance with Jackson (it might be the most deliriously audience-friendly scene here), but later, the focus seems to slip into following Jack's response to her fame and attempts to undermine it, consciously or otherwise (the marriage proposal being the last attempt to grasp something slipping away from him). 


One might see that as function of her career, and the choices made for her, getting away from her, but there doesn’t seem much room for Ally amidst the boozy BF/hubby and choreographed dance moves. One might suggest Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is simply essaying a more innocent, directionless version of Lady Gaga (which, to the character's credit, means there's no spirit cooking involved) in the same way Eminem made such an impact in 8 Mile, but she can't do more than the material gives her, which isn't, ultimately, an identity separate to Jackson.


Most of the – in the grander scheme of things, relatively minor – issues I have with the movie relate to the back end, once longueurs set in and the initial dramatic tension dissipates somewhat. If there’s little sense of where Jackson stands as a county-and-western legend, there's even less of a feel for Ally's meteoric rise. To a degree, I suspect that's intentional on Cooper's part. It comes from the same impulse that puts us on stage with the performer, rather than in the crowd watching, but it also makes her success come across as slightly insular and inauthentic; we have a reference to YouTube hits, an appearance on Saturday Night Live, and then the Grammys debacle. And that's it. 


Added to which, aside from Shallow, the transporting first duet, none of the songs have much impact. Indeed, the only plus point of the "Jackson-remembered" montage accompanying Ally’s final power ballad I'll Never Love Again is that it’s so much better and more heartfelt when Cooper delivers the first draft unaccompanied on piano. It also seems like a glaring omission that there's no scene where Jackson's afflicting tinnitus is mentioned to or by Ally, such that we don’t know if he was keeping it from her, or if he wasn't, what she thought about it.


The supporting cast are generally great. Sam Elliott is majestically moving as Jack's older brother (an addition to this version that lends it just a hint of The Fabulous Baker Boys, with the more talented younger sibling) and manager (just witness him tearing up when Jackson tells him it was always him, and not their father, that he idolised). Andrew Dice Clay is marvellously small-minded but big-hearted as Ally's dad, Anthony Ramos likeable as her more ebullient best pal tagging along during the opening act, and Dave Chappelle – or his clone – is very winning in a small but mood-lifting role as Jack's childhood pal. There has to be a bum note, though, and Rafi Gavron's hissable music producer is so unutterably repellent from the first moment we meet him that everything he does later is telegraphed. It might have been more astute to make him a snake in sheep's clothing, or give him a modicum of charm (Ray Liotta was reportedly in talks at one point, and he could do that, but really, you want someone who'll surprise when they finally stick the knife in).


There's also Jackson’s final exit, which doesn't quite work for me. Not his reaching that point, although, while I know pissing yourself on stage at the Grammys is a no-no, it isn't like anyone watches the show any more, right? Rather, he's sitting in his car, about to drive to her gig loaded, and he stops himself. Presumably because he thought, "No, running off the road and crashing would be too much like Kristofferson". And, while walking into the ocean à la James Mason would have been very poetic – doing anything like James Mason would be very poetic – he didn’t have one handy. What a blessed relief then, that he was able to draw on that Chekov's Conversation with his counsellor at the rehab clinic a few scenes back – better late than never – about his attempted teen suicide. The garage rafters it is for a re-enactment, then. It didn't feel quite earned to me – not that a movie suicide should be earned in the glorifying sense – more like a decision reached for want of a better alternative.


Given how audiences are proven suckers for a doomed love story, it's a wonder studios don't attempt to strike gold in that hill more often. This one will probably run and run at cinemas – with the additional attraction of two decades of reality TV talent shows fuelling it – but whereas in most cases, it's easy scoff at unearned and cheap recourse to emotional clichés, A Star is Born is the rare example that traverses familiar terrain yet surmounts the obstacles in its path. Of course, the future could go either way for Bradley if another actor-cum-director's Oscar-winning career is born (see Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson on the one hand, Clint, Redford and Warren on the other).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.