Movie Review: “A Star is Born” again

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Musically sharp and dramatically flat, the latest version of “A Star is Born” starts impressively and falls off suddenly, a sudsy, overwrought remake that drowns in its abrupt, perfunctory emotional leaps.

All this hype around Lady Gaga’s big screen debut? She’s imitating previous “Star” Barbra Streisand (without the comic timing or pathos) for the first 40 minutes, going through the motions for the next 90.

Bradley Cooper displays solid musical chops and takes his best shot at acting smitten. But he’s the least convincing self-destructive drunk of any of the four versions of “A Star is Born.”  High-functioning? There’s barely a slur or stagger to him, and aside from looks, musical talent and a hint of courtliness, where’s the attraction for a hip, talented younger woman? Aside from “He’ll be good for my career?”

As a director, Cooper leans heavily on the 1976 “Star” with Streisand and Kris Kristoffersen, artfully capturing musical performances with the camera literally on stage and up close, contrasting the hard work and bedlam of making country rock in arenas with the lonely quiet of the limo ride with a bottle afterwards, the hotel rooms, which are for passing out in until the next show.

There are gimmicks and story beats from that sad Streisand “Star” revived here — bubble baths to make the ladies swoon. But the story jerks along, never quite convincing us that this jaded superstar would take all that interest in a 30ish big-voiced belter, the only “real” woman singing (“La Vie en Rose,” in French) at a drag bar lip-sync show he drops into after his own concert to wet his whistle.

We never can figure out why Jackson Maine puts the laid-back, drunken moves on Plain Jane Ally, or what triggers the fight she starts in the next bar they hit after the drag bar closes. Gaga isn’t a good enough actress to let us see her fall head over heels, though I did buy her impulsive quit-her-job-and-accept Jackson’s offer to join him at his next show. She doesn’t give that the mercenary “This could be good for my career” edge it needs, either. Not fashionable in our #MeToo era, I suppose.

But that first moment he drags her onstage works, as Gaga’s Ally strains to summon up the guts to sing a new song composed in a super market parking lot the night before to an audience of thousands. The clips of the film used in the trailers pre-sell the songs and those early moments, which are the best scenes in a movie that peaks far too early for its own good.

Cooper stages several comically intimate exchanges between Jackson and his older brother/manager (Sam Elliott), face grabbing, nose-to-nose chats that suggest not just brotherly love, but tough guys with issues and camera blocking that wants every shot to be an extreme closeup, whenever possible. Real Western brothers like their personal space, like everybody else.

Elliott is magnificent of course, but pushing them this close together is jarring, unnatural. Dave Chapelle has a single sequence, an old friend from “the old days” who somehow knew Jackson in childhood in Arizona and who now lives in Memphis. It plays sentimental enough, and the scene at least leads to a wedding with Eddie Griffin (Remember him?) officiating.

 

It’s a film of impressionistic sketches for scenes, and jolting transitions between them. There’s a brief, grudging warmth between older brother Bobby (Elliott) and Ally, whom he accepts after raising an eyebrow — “Think maybe he drinks a bit much?”

The “warmth” between Ally and her dad (Andrew Dice Clay) and his gang of elderly limo drivers is goofy, with an edge — “He’s a drunk,” she says of her new beau. “You know all about drunks.”

Cooper’s intensely likable in the early scenes, and meant to be a lot less so later on. Not really. I like his world weary “Take it all in” sermons to Ally as her solo career takes flight. He gives Jackson a clinical depression (and tinnitus) back story, but doesn’t play those in ways that point in the direction (dead-end rehab scenes) the film meanders into.

The script has Gaga’s Ally going all “ugly duckling” about her looks, with other characters (particularly Jackson) constantly reassuring her she’s beautiful. That’s the message in more than a few of Gaga’s pre-“Star” pop hits, but here it comes off as needy and pointless puffery, “contractually obligated.”

I expected to be dazzled by this thing, with all the hype surrounding it. But I lost heart in it as clunky scenes clunk together, and actors manfully (and womanfully) soldier on through blown lines to achieve a “natural” feel (Ally tells her dad “Eat your dinner” in one breakfast moment, and covers for it haphazardly. This happens a few times).

“A Star is Born” is supposed to be a great, tragic romance, a Hollywood opera. I didn’t believe them as a couple, didn’t fear for their future together and didn’t mourn the laughably abrupt climax that Cooper, finally remembering the movie he was remaking, forced into the finale.

Download the soundtrack, just don’t expect too much from the movie.

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Dave Chapelle, Sam Elliott

Credits:Directed by Bradley Cooper, script by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetterman, based on the earlier “Star is Born” films. A Warner Brothers/MGM release.

Running time: 2:15

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30 Responses to Movie Review: “A Star is Born” again

  1. John says:

    What an incredibly undynamic review! All I heard the whole time reading was “it’s not like the old one, it’s not like the old one, I like the old one better, it’s supposed to be like the old one, shes not that great of an actress anyway” The only thing falling flat is your ability to be a rounded critic, and your advertised on site “against the grain” gimmick. See, The only true “gimmick” at hand is you. Don’t think for one moment that the clever word play in smashing the narrative for the same thing over and over again would mean we can’t see right through your repetitive, dated, black and white parameters for reviewing, your bias, and hostile disdain for remakes. This write up is unobjective, and reflects way too much personal preference.

    • Uh, did I say I liked “The old one” or “liked the old one better?” No. It was crap. There’s nothing wrong with remaking a 40 year old movie. But the Garland version, 75 years old, is more touching. Lady Gaga is a big-voiced righteous soul adored for who she is. She’s a middling actress who gets graded on the curve for that reason. Dull, jerky, spasmodic movie, self-indulgent patchwork.

    • Richard Conn says:

      She’s imitating …i love …
      lol ..

      gaga imitating ????? nooooo lol

  2. Greg says:

    You’re the first and only review I read, out of 90, that said « I didn’t believe them as a couple » when literally everybody said that their chemistry is outstanding. Same goes for Gaga performance and Cooper’s direction. I don’t think I can take you seriously…

    • See the movie. I noticed The Guardian critic made the same point. Of course, if you read “90 reviews” (polygraphable?) you are watching Peter Pan and you WANT to believe, and make Tinkerbell live again. And are therefor immune to reason. Your momma doesn’t take YOU seriously, dear.

  3. Matheus Moura says:

    How much did they pay you to give one a hater and give the smallest note so far? 29 positive non-metacritic notes. Several hundred and you come with a 50? Please, do not … Watch the movie again and redo the review, because it is not possible. As much as it is a matter of taste, we are talking about commercial success and acclaim. It makes no sense to give a 50 for this movie …

    • Get your money back for the Google translator you’re shelling out for, “Mattheus.” Or get a refund for your ESL class. And have a grownup explain “reviewing” to you, child.

  4. Joseph says:

    You’re definitely a fan of Streissand’s version which, out of the last 3 films was the worst. This new version moves you in many ways. It’s amazing.

    • No, no I am not. I barely remember it, but hell, I remember the drag club from “The Rose” and the bubble baths from “ASIB 76” because, you know, I’m sentient. Thanks for trying to mis-charactize me, Lady Gaga “monster” fanperson. See? Two can play that game.

  5. Steve O says:

    Of the four previous versions. from 1932 to the present, the 1976 Streisand version is the worst. It was a hit at the time but seeing it now you wonder why. Every departure the script takes from the effective template laid down by previous versions makes it worse.

    Zero chemistry between Barbra and Kristofferson, whose entire performance consists of smiling coyly, and not a single credible scene. She is introduced as part of a singing trio: her, with a black girl on either side, and they’re called — I kid you not — THE OREOS!

    The poetic, touching suicide by drowning in the 1937 version, closely followed in the great 1954 version, is replaced in 1976 by a death scene so absurd it’s hilarious. Kristofferson kills himself in a car crash, giving Barbra a chance to play a maudlin scene with his corpse (“If this doesn’t win me the Oscar, nuthin will!”) where she pretends she doesn’t realize he’s dead.

    I’m seeing the new one on Tuesday. I hope to God they understood and avoided all the things that made the Streisand version suck.

    • I know, right? So WHY would you reference Streisand’s pop-eyed banter (bad Gaga imitation of Babs), the bubble bath, or anything about that film? Because, of course, this story is CATNIP — 80 years of hits/blockbusters made from this same script, do what you know has worked before. The only NEW idea would have been to flip the roles — cast a woman as the has-been mentoring a young, mercenary guy. Madonna and oh, Zac E. maybe. Or make Ally greedy and “All About Eve” ish. SOMEthing. I didn’t buy Cooper as a has-been, or a high-functioning drunk, didn’t feel the relationship was grounded or organic. PREDICTION — All this gaga for GAGA cultish hate mail I am getting (ugly, ad hominem, irrational, and no I am not allowing the ugliest comments to be posted) will fade upon opening weekend, and people — some, not all — who find “A Star is Born” a letdown after all this critical swooning will look for a review they agree with. And come here.

      • OMG I was thinking the same thing!! I mean I’m a little monster AND a film student and I actually hate A Star is Born, I mean, the other 3 versions… (how many times u can redo this story? whats the point?) … But i was saying the other day just that! why not flip the roles? I mean if you wanna take a fresh feminist 2018 take on this awful old ass script, why not flip the roles? anyways, i just hope this movie doesn’t suck like u say, cos im watching this weekend.

      • compelled to comment says:

        I opened an account just to give you one big THUMBS UP for this comment right here. Bravo, man. Finally, an authentic review. I had a feeling the best parts of the film were in the trailer(s). I’m ready to see Venom when it opens tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a ‘fantastic mess’. That sounds a lot more interesting than this re-hashed drama WB has been shoving down our throats for months. Anyways. Just wanted to say: Thanks. Don’t be intimidated by trolls. You’re spot on.

  6. Genna says:

    Wow, Roger. It appears that you are seriously out of step with your fellow reviewers on this one. We are left to wonder what you missed, which — if we believe the more substantial and in depth critiques of many others to be more accurate — is rather a lot.

    • Genna, I listed 14 specific criticisms, and half a dozen things I liked about the film. “More substantial” and “in depth?” You don’t know what you are talking about, and as you haven’t seen the movie, you’re doubling down on it. Believe what you want to believe, but unlike you I made my case.

  7. John Sawyer says:

    I agree. You don’t compare it to the old film because it’s a new version. And for you bring in the #metoo crap shows your ignorance. You don’t conform to today’s society or ways in a movie or in acting. It’s so people can get away just a couple hours from that! You should be fired. You are a unfair and useless critic that makes no sense.

    • Brother, read your rant before posting it. You come off as somebody learning English by studying trolls, trolls who never learned reason, rational argument or the rules of English grammar.

  8. Richard Conn says:

    lol gags deluded fan base attacking a reviewer – i believe this film is all hype you can tell by the clips

  9. Bernie says:

    What a complete load of rubbish your review is. Please get a life. I have seen the last 2 films and this one is far better than the BS and KK version. Lady Gaga is absolutely superb.

    • Bernie dear, you’re having an argument where none exists. The Streisand one is even worse. I never ever ever said it wasn’t soapy silliness. Cooper’s direction is choppy, abrupt. And Gaga is more of a pop cultural icon than an actress. Plenty of reviews say that, but don’t have the nerve to laugh at her Golden Globe winning (“American Horror Story” ) rep and actually pan the movie, which flails and fails after about 50 minutes. Bless her for her inclusivity, but maybe get her to take off the meat suit or Gagawear and hit the Actor’s Studio for a few weeks.

  10. Linda says:

    I liked the movie but agree with the reviewer it wasn’t as good as the hype. I have only seen the Judy Garland version and drawing from that I thought this new version was actually too short to carry the trajectory and narrative. The movie felt thin, superfluous and rushed. I concur with the majority really Lady Gaga though I thought she was fantastic.

  11. Susanna says:

    Well done. I agree completely.

  12. Stan Lee Kubrick says:

    I totally agree the first 40 minutes of A Star Is Born is great and the last 90 minutes was undramatic. The soundtrack deserves a Grammy. The movie also deserves an award for fooling everyone into thinking it deserves an Oscar.

  13. OnlineKindness says:

    What an biased review! It’s funny to think that you have the nerve to write this nonsense. Congratulations on this tragic site!

  14. StraVuk says:

    This is perhaps one of, if not the only credible review of this film. I guess I deluded myself into thinking the film would be spectacular, whereas it turned out to be such a mess. It starts off pretty bold, but declines quickly, and ridiculously drags for more than two hours, when it should have been condensed into 90 minutes. Technically, it was extremely flawed, had a terrible pacing, almost every single dialogue was flat and hackneyed and all the transitions between the scenes were on the amateur-student level. Like you said, if was full of unnecessary close-up shots, considering this was Gaga’s film debut, it’s quite challenging to force her face like that. Some of the finest actresses like Viola Davis or Cate Blanchett are always given more space (literally) for their body language. I have to disagree a little bit with you, I thought Gaga was pretty solid (better than Streisand), there’s something hypnotic and mesmeric about her, I thought her facial expressions were smart and intuitive. I was in sort of a trance whenever she’d start singing, and bought her musical geyser that would make the cinema reverberate. As for their romance, yes, it was very unbelievable and asinine. Overall, the film looked like a student documentary on a self-destructive musician. Cooper is just not that experienced or good enough (like Eastwood or Cassavetes) to multi-task.
    Thumbs up for your objectively critical and realistic review.
    Greetings

  15. Timothy Hobbs says:

    I couldn’t make up my mind if this was a movie or a Lady Gaga concert. Her fans of course love it. But why all the Oscar buzz? Movies have become more about the glitz and special effects than dramatic strength. The only aspect new to this theme is the genre of music. Is it a musical? Is it a drama? How about a Dramsical?

  16. Joao says:

    I was very confused by all the positive reviews so it’s good to see that I’m not the only one with this apparently controversial opinion. I think Lady Gaga did much better than I expected, but have to agree with everything you say, the movie is only enjoyable for the first 40 minutes, the scenes feel very confusing and flat, we don’t really have any time to actually believe their relationship. Just don’t understand the hype.

  17. VR says:

    I watch at least one movie a week at the cinemas and so saw this with no prejudice or expectation or whatever. This is the only review that got at some of what my friend and I thought about it.It was a trainwreck.

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