Screen + Sound + Stage
Why remake a film that has been recreated twice already, by stalwarts no less? A reprise begs comparisons and is inherently a risky proposition. To recreate an already-successful piece of art is a terrifying prospect. So, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why Bradley Cooper — a huge star with much to lose — would choose to debut with the thrice-made A Star Is Born. I try to block out the niggling questions and immerse myself in the film that has been in the news right from the announcement of its cast and director. One thing’s for sure. Warner Bros has pulled off the perfect casting coup by getting Lady Gaga to headline this gig.
Both Gaga and Cooper have been the toast of tinsel town, garnering rave reviews for acting and directing, ever since the film started showing at festivals. There’s talk of an Academy Award doing the rounds. There’s no reason to doubt it.
But halfway through the film I’m already underwhelmed. The storyline which depicts Cooper as the alcoholic ageing rock star Jackson Maine on a downward spiral and Gaga’s a rising star Ally is all too familiar — I’m thinking Begin Again (2014), Crazy Heart (2011), Walk the Line (2005), Music and Lyrics (2007), and even The Artist (2012) and All About Eve (1950) — and brings nothing new to the table.
A weak script and screenplay let the film down. It would have been a good idea to play to Cooper’s strengths and explore his excellent comic timing visible briefly in his interactions with Ally’s manager Rez (played by Rafi Gavron who is excellent in a short-lived role). Sam Elliott as Jackson’s brother is wasted in an ill-etched-out role, as is Dave Chappelle who, incredibly, comes across as bland. Maybe they should have let Chapelle write his own lines?
I am in love with Shallow, the soulful duet that has garnered over 10 million hits on YouTube in less than a week. And I am grateful for Gaga — a natural in front of the camera, she exudes a precious freshness despite her celebrity. She plays Ally with a hint of self-deprecation you don’t normally associate with her confident larger-than-life personas, perhaps offering a peek into Stefani Germanotta — although we know that Gaga’d much rather be known by her stage name and alter ego in real life. She effortlessly looks and feels the part of the character she essays, an artiste on the cusp of stardom — a skin she had cast off many light years ago — bursting into a powerful rendition of La Vie En Rose in full costume just as easily as she emotes Ally’s quiet resilience and rebellion.
Cooper is likeable as always, especially in the first half, although it his singing voice — a revelation — instead of his acting chops that is the pièce de résistance this time. We are already excited about Paramount Pictures’ Bernstein, which he is slated to direct and star in with producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
As Jackson philosophises, it’s all about having something to say and this is ironically where the film falls short. Even for those who haven’t seen any of the earlier versions, the story gets predictable. Ally is signed on by Rez, a maverick of a manager. The usual drama unfolds — creative compromises, the career-versus-relationship arc, insecurities, etc. , but Even the loss of a primary character doesn’t arouse any genuine emotions due to the lack of an actual buildup and I can’t bring myself to sympathise with either Jackson or Ally.
The second half brings the tempo down a notch despite this sudden exit. A crisper edit and a handle on the number of cliches could have been a real gift. A friend had stated simply, “The film humanises Gaga”. Half the battle is won without her layers of make-up and outrageous costumes. But credit where it is due for the other half. For once, she feels real, like she could be a face in the crowd even. That’s laudable, for that’s exactly what she isn’t.