A STAR IS BORN
What is there to say about a film whose story is such a winner that it has now been made for the fourth time (will there be a boxed set with all four versions)?! Against all odds and despite the obnoxious year-long buildup, A Star is Born is solid entertainment: a perfectly cast and executed film that delivers its fantasy goods all the while making you believe that every moment is true.
Ally (Lady Gaga) is a waitress (“server”) who also performs at her former job: a run-down club that has a drag night once a week. The drag queens love Ally of course, especially as, on stage at least, she looks and acts like one. She is the only performer (and the only female) that’s allowed to actually sing, rather than lip-synch. Maybe it’s because she CAN sing: her rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” is memorable, even if her life offstage isn’t.
Ally lives in a suburban Los Angeles home with her Frank Sinatra-loving father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay). Ally’s practical world exists in stark contrast to the glittery, decadent show business world of country/rock legend Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a man who loves his drinks—and his pills. A fortuitous meeting between “Jack” and Ally occurs at the drag club where she sometimes performs. Following an introduction, the two end up in the parking lot of a convenience store where Ally reveals that she enjoys writing songs as much as singing and Jack reveals that he thinks she’s a star.
Modern conveniences distinguish this new peek at the journey to fame. Ally becomes a star not because of hard work, but because a fan recorded YouTube post has gone viral. And the new way in which singers move from “talent” to stars shines a mirror on current TMZ culture celebrity. It’s not filling in for an absent performer that catapults Ally to stardom, it’s her “prime singing spot” on the television show Saturday Night Live. Ally’s awareness of audience; gay/straight/white/black also position her well, as does the professional validation that comes from her first record’s three Grammy nominations.
It’s the surprisingly naturalistic performances that make an impression. Amidst such an inflated, outré backdrop, Bradley Cooper, with his ruddy complexion, bloodshot eyes and greasy hair, is as familiar from real life as is Lady Gaga, an immensely talented young woman whose self-esteem is challenged by societies beauty standards: no one, we are told, thinks she’s pretty.
And she isn’t: she’s beautiful. That’s what talent does, it reflects back on the person and casts them in a warm glow. If there’s a moment that pop music fans might be uncomfortable with it’s the pictures’ disdain for a creative choice that Ally makes: she wants to be more Soul/R & B/Dance. Jack, now her lover and emotional support, believes that this is “selling out.” He never says it to her, but his disappointed eyes tell us. This is an old fashioned idea in a film that’s modern in every other way. Ally does not have to justify the creative decisions she makes: she’s an artist. And if she has the capability to create a mystique via dying her hair red, performing elaborate choreographed dance routines, and selling sex, this is no less authentic than anything Jack has done. Both are doing what’s needed to reach a record buying audience.
Producer/director/co-writer (with Eric Roth and Will Fetters) Bradley Cooper is to be commended for this carefully crafted look back: not so much a nostalgia trip but instead a marked update: 2018 has nothing to do with the past, and this tale with its cell phones, streaming and internet related details will speak to a new generation of young people who aspire to live the artist’s life. Jack and Ally are just like the rest of us: they want to be seen, heard and remembered.