The music is good, Lady Gaga can act, the dog is adorable, and Bradley Cooper looks pretty sans shirt. That, and the charming scenes between Andrew Dice Clay and his character’s cohorts, work well in the re-re-remake of “A Star is Born”.
Cooper shows initial strength as a first-time director (his handling of the title card is masterful). And the first 45 minutes are so entertaining, one can look past the heavy-handed symbolism (one shot of nooses on a billboard is fine, two is too many) as well as a contrived bar punch (needed so the leads can continue their serendipitous encounter).
But once working girl Ally (Gaga) agrees to go on the road with rockstar Jackson (Cooper), the film’s attention to detail, structure and motives fly out the tour bus window. Not only is it difficult to gauge how much time has passed, it’s hard to detect what the characters feel for each other and want out of life.
Based on previous versions, one may assume Ally wants to be a star but, in this recent adaptation, she resents fans, resists going on stage and refuses to take her manager’s advice. So, later in the film, it seems more like an excuse than a sacrifice when she gives up touring to stay home with her husband.
Yeah, after a jarringly incongruous scene with Dave Chappelle, Ally marries Jackson even though her friends and family can’t attend the impromptu wedding. She also ignores the fact that he’s a substance abuser who abuses her because she’s an old-fashioned, stand-by-your-man woman who believes it’s “not his fault.” True, depression is a disease Jackson cannot help, but it can be managed and shouldn’t be used as a pass for his otherwise controlling and condescending treatment of her.
Still, Ally lives to serve. Even after leaving her job as a server and becoming a pop star, she continues to wait on her dad and enable her spouse. This is where the overly-long screenplay (written by three men including Cooper) feels like “A Star is Born” from the 1930s or ’50s rather than the more feminist remake of 1976. Apart from a video going viral, the 2018 version has little to do with the 21st century.
It’s such a white male-centric movie, the Grammys sequence features a tribute to Roy Orbison (who died 30 years ago!) as if no equally-significant female singers have emerged since. Ally performs Edith Piaf’s 1940s hit “La Vie en Rose” and owns Carole King’s Tapestry album from 1971 but never references the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s which influenced women’s pop music.
Had Ally been given the opportunity to stand up for herself or her music, the film could have offered an empowering message or, at least, some type of interesting conflict. Instead, unneeded scenes are devoted to Cooper and Sam Elliott—both of whom mumble nearly inaudible backstory exposition in an attempt to make Jackson a lovable and (more misplaced) heroic character, rather than making the most of Ally’s arc and Lady Gaga’s screen presence.
Photo by Neal Preston / Warner Bros.