Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Star is Born

While not the most original of projects, A Star is Born is the fourth movie of that name which older artists help to launch the careers of younger artists, the story is emotionally engaging and expertly told. There is always a challenge with musicals when choosing either actors who can sing or singers who can act. For its two leads, A Star is Born chooses one of each. In the first 10 minutes we learn three things. First, Bradley Cooper can direct. Second, Lady Gaga can act. And finally, Bradly Cooper can sing. All of this results in a compelling film.

Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a musician who can still sell out arenas but is obviously on the downside of his career. An alcoholic and drug addict, Jackson meets Ally (Lady Gaga) in a drag club one night. Sparks fly nearly immediately as Jackson discovers not only does Ally have a great voice but also a talent for writing personal songs. A friendship and romance blossoms as Jackson pushes Ally into the spotlight launching her career and creating new tensions between the two artists and lovers concerning Ally's rise to fame and issues and addictions Jackson chooses not to speak openly about.

Although I have some minor quibbles with Cooper's direction (including a few too many close-ups and time spent on setting up a crucial scene that takes place late in the final act), he and Gaga are great on-screen together. Playing to each's strengths, Jackson is the more complex character while Ally's music talent overwhelms all who hear her. Gaga holds her own with Cooper in the dramatic scenes, and Cooper proves her equal in belting out song after song. The movie has several musical numbers; "Shallow" is the real stand-out both in how Cooper and Gaga's characters connect while creating the song and how its performance generates Ally's breakthrough moment as an artist.

As with many real or fictional biopics, A Star is Born spends time on addiction. The scenes help define the character of Jackson and open to door to other issues the musician has concerning his family (Sam Elliott gets a nice turn here as the older brother who has struggled to watch out for Jackson his entire life). While not as pivotal to the plot, Andrew Dice Clay steals a scene or two as Ally's father (especially in how the film looks at how we talk to and about our family to others). Rafi Gavron is the only one that gets forced into more of a cliche role as a music agent caring only about the bottom line and not the happiness or well-being of his clients. Aside from him, I found the characters and their journey captivating (and the quality of the music didn't hurt, either).

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