Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Film Review: A Star is Born

Sexuality/Nudity Offensive
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Offensive

A movie does not need to have a happy ending for me to like.  But at the very least, it shouldn't leave me with a sickening sense of waste when it is over.

And that is what happened when the credits rolled for A Star is Born.

This movie has been remade several times.  On this go around, it is in the capable directorial hands of Bradley Cooper who also stars along with Lady Gaga.  Cooper plays Jackson Maine, an alcoholic, pill-popping, country-rock star just about to go over the hill of obscurity.  One night while searching for alcohol he accidentally stumbles into a drag bar.  There, Gaga's Ally is sining "La Vie en Rose" and Jackson is immeadieatly smitten.  The two spend the night getting to know each other.  Eventually, he pulls her into his world to make her singing dreams come true as his life begins to spiral out of control.

I will have to say that I am not a fan of Lady Gaga.  But I must admit she does a capable job in the lead role.  You can believe her star quality as it begins to shine.  She does a fine job, but not that good.  In the end, she always feels like a singer who is speaking memorized lines.  She is the most believable when she is performing on stage, which makes sense.  Cooper is the one who steals the show.  He makes his self-destructive Jackson infuriating while at the same time incredibly charming and likeable.  His sweaty face makes you feel the internal damage his life of addiction is doing to him.  But his eyes still look out with hope, as if he is trapped in a cage of his own abuse.  Sam Elliot has a great turn as Jackson's older brother and manager.  He plays the contradicting emotions of love, disgust, jealousy, and admiration in a completely believable way while never losing an inch of his grizzled toughness.  Even Andrew Dice Clay does a fine turn as Ally's celebrity obsessed dad.

And Cooper's directorial debut is very solid.  He pulls you into the chaotic world of a rock star.  He knows when to use the steady cam to give an almost documentary style feel and he knows when to use more stylistic camera angeles and moves.  The best part of the movie is the moment that Jackson convinces Ally to perform on stage with him.  It is a cacophany of overwhelming sounds, lights, and emotions.  You get caught up in the exhiliration and you feel almost like you are the one standing on the stage with hundreds of screaming fans.

The music is also a highlight of the film.  The rock numbers are strong and Gaga's emotional ballads make it easy to believe that Jackson would fall for Ally on a number of levels.  There is a rawness to the music and the lyrics that feels like a purer kind of artistic expression than I was expecting from this remake. 

The movie drew me in and I was completely invested in the lives of these characters, flawed though they are.  But then right around the third act, the wheels came spinning off of the train.

This is one of those movies where it is difficult to explain its negative review without getting into spoiler territory.  I will do my best to be vauge, but be warned that the rest of the review may contain spoilers.

As Ally's star goes on the rise, Jackson's world begins to disintegrate.  He is in a Catch-22 regarding Ally.  He wants her to succeed, but slowly her artistic integrity begins to erode and her success pulls her away from him physically.  If he interferes with her success he hates himself for ruining her chance.  If he allows her to continue down this path, he will hate himself letting her be corrupted.  On top of this, his addiction makes his behavior increasingly mean and volitile.  This would all be even more dramatic and intriguing.  But the movie takes the idea that self-destructive behavior in the right context can be noble.

I could not help of comparing the movie to Nicholas Cage's Leaving Las Vegas.  In that movie, Cage destroyed his family, career, and his life because of his alcoholism.  He decides to drink himself to death in Las Vegas as a kind of self-imposed penance.  That movie has a very twisted understanding of redemption.  Yes, a price is paid, but the destruction is ultimately a selfish one.  The real penance would be to pick up his cross and set his life right.  The wages of sin is death.  The lesson is not to open your arms and embrace the death that comes from sin.  The lesson is to abandon sin and embrace life.  A Star is Born, has tries to recreate that same kind of dark redemption as Leaving Las Vegas.  At this point in the movie, I completely checked out.  Instead of drawing me in further, I ceased to care about anything.  The movie became a long day's journey into night and I felt a poor return on my emotional investment.  The movie ends with a final heart-felt ballad.  But I will be honest, I can't remember anything about that song because I cared so little.

In addition to this, the movie gets a little too raw when it doesn't need to do so.  There is a scene of quick full-frontal nudity that seems to be there only to exploit the film's R-rating.  There is plenty of drug and alcohol abuse on camera, but it is shown to be ugly and destructive, so it serves a decent purpose.

I think this movie and I don't have a visceral anger toward it.  I feel like a mom saying, "I'm not angry.  I'm disappointed."  Cooper was telling a story that was worth telling and then he let's his script cause him to fumble to ball hard on the one-yard line.  The problem with fumbling that hard is that it makes all of the great plays before that inconsequential.

image by Yasir72.multan

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