Movie Review: A Star Is Born

The fourth musical version of the tale offers good acting but no new insights

A Star Is Born (Zrodila se hvězda)
Directed by Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott

Every generation gets a new version of A Star Is Born. The current version with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is the fourth musical version, not counting the 1932 drama What Price Hollywood?

The plot holds few surprises for any film fans, as it sticks close to its hoary roots. But Bradley Cooper does an impressive job wearing the four hats of actor, writer, producer and director.

He is upstaged, though, by Lady Gaga in her first starring feature film role. Lady Gaga, though already has Golden Globe for her acting in the miniseries American Horror Story: Hotel, so she is hardly a newcomer.

Lady Gaga gives a quite restrained performance as the singer whose star rises, while the person who discovered sinks lower and lower. She is known for her flamboyant shows, but actually plays a singer less talented than she is in real life.

Her character, Ally, becomes another assembly line pop star, sadly giving up much of her raw talent and unique persona when she falls in the hands of a pop producer who wants to create another Madonna / Beyonce clone, with overproduced songs, backup dancers in matching costumes and a packaged look.

Ally is discovered by Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a guitarist who fills giant outdoor festivals with his hard country rock. He drinks as hard as he rocks, and takes pills at the same time.

His fate is unfortunately telegraphed from the moment he arrives. His meeting with Ally comes from him looking for more booze after his show ends, and not caring that the closest place is a dive bar in a dark side street, and the clientele is there for a drag show.

Jackson Maine clues in after a short while but his desire for alcohol keeps him there. He sees Ally, the only non-drag performer in the lineup, and the rest pretty much is by the numbers for a musical tragedy about fame.

Cooper plays Jackson as a rather unglamorous and self-indulgent star. It verges a bit of a stereotype of the drunk who passes out and has to be carried to bed all the time. There is a bit of a backstory to his character, in an effort to give him some depth. But his role is something we have seen before, and why Ally sticks by him so long as he increasingly becomes unreliable and at times abusive is unclear.

One surprise is Andrew Dice Clay, a former stand up comic whose own star fell when his brand of politically incorrect humor became unpopular. He plays Ally's father, Lorenzo, as a fairly sympathetic working-class suburban man who runs a limo service. The performance captures the character of someone who has tried hard to make it, and barely kept ahead of the game. His love for his daughter seems genuine.

Veteran actor Sam Elliot really works to hold the film together. He plays Bobby, who has been trying to keep Jackson from self-destructing. It is another stereotypical role, but he brings sincerity to it.

The film is a musical, and here it could have been a bit stronger. There are some very good songs, especially when Ally sings with Jackson Maine's band, but Ally's solo work later is a bit weaker. Jackson's band on its own is of a bit generic rock act, and we never get the sense of why Jackson Maine is supposed to be so famous.

The film was made three times previously, first in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and them most famously in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason. The 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson is considered a flop, though the current version borrows a bit from its plot.

There was also a non-musical film 1n 1932 called What Price Hollywood? that had an identical plot. The makers of that considered suing the makers of the 1937 version for plagiarism.

This current version is better than the 1976 one and perhaps even better than the original, but not as good at the Judy Garland version.

Art film director Terrence Mallick recently made a rather overlooked film called Song to Song, starring Ryan Gosling as a struggling would-be music star, and while that film was flawed it offers some more original ideas about the workings of the music industry and showed us things we hadn't seen before.

A Star Is Born is expected to do well in the film award season, and clearly has its sights on several Oscars. Likely it will even win some. But it is old and well-trod material, and it offers no new insight into fame and addiction.

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