A Star is Born

 

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A film of the moment despite having its roots in the 1930s.

   
Star is Born, A

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

 

With this remarkable directorial debut by Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born achieves its fourth incarnation. Back in 1937, it was a screen original, a drama telling of a young actress attaining stardom at the same time that the acting career of her mentor was going into a fatal decline. As such, it stood out as an outstanding portrayal of Hollywood life. It played in the same way in 1954 when the tale was retold with music in George Cukor's classic film starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Both versions retain their reputation, but most people have less affection for the 1976 treatment which kept music as a strong feature (the star was Barbra Streisand) but jettisoned Hollywood in favour of a tale (the same tale) about rock stars.

 

Now, as almost everybody must be aware we have Bradley Cooper's take on it (that seems the apt description since he is star, director, co-writer and co-producer). Since his co-star in her first major cinema role is Lady Gaga, it is no surprise to find that this film follows the 1976 version in being set in the world of star singers who draw huge crowds on tour. Nevertheless, central as the music is, this no less than Cukor's movie is a drama with prominent music rather than a fully-fledged musical in the mode of the recent La La Land.

 

Enormous claims have already been made for this new film with Oscar tips abounding and one can understand that. The first half is stunningly good with Cooper on his top acting form and Lady Gaga living up to all the hopes for her in a role that makes acting demands as well as singing ones (the songs are mainly her own but she starts off with the classic 'La Vie en Rose'). Two distinct aspects make the first half special. One is the romantic chemistry between the stars enhanced by the way in which their attraction is filmed by Cooper and caught perfectly by his editor Jay Cassidy (this treatment makes much more of the love story than did Cukor's film thus adding to its romantic appeal). That's a huge benefit in selling the film to today's audiences, but even more important is the way in which this film is utterly of the moment. In this respect, it takes its cue from the casting of Lady Gaga, from such incidentals as 'La Vie en Rose' being performed in a gay club and from the realisation that for many today the world of pop celebrities who tour has stronger appeal than that of film stars. This movie captures the vibe in the most extraordinary way.

 

The second half is good but less exceptional and not without some distinct weaknesses. After the central couple marry, their bond is threatened by Cooper's character succumbing to drugs and alcohol and to the arrival on the scene of a music producer who takes over the management of the new star. This role played by Rafi Gavron is easily the least convincing figure in the tale. Furthermore, the film suggests the importance of artists telling in their own way what they truly need to tell, but the notion that the manager is intent on creating instead a conventional popular product is inadequately followed through. Meanwhile, Cooper's decline is portrayed in a manner that makes the movie seem drawn out (it does indeed last 136 minutes but, although the 1954 version was even longer, it was better sustained, had stronger supporting characters and was more concise in presenting the events that lead to the final tragedy thus making it more moving). As you may gather, I still give the crown to Cukor's film, but much here is exceptional and newcomers to the tale will have no comparisons to make. In any case, 2018's A Star Is Born is essential viewing.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Bonnie Somerville, Michael Harvey, Rebecca Field, William Belli, Ron Rifkin, Alec Baldwin.

 

Dir Bradley Cooper, Pro Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters and Todd Phillips, Screenplay Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters, from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson, Ph Matthew Libatique, Pro Des Karen  Murphy, Ed Jay Cassidy, Costumes Erin Benach.

  
Warner Bros. Pictures/Peters Entertainment/Gerber Pictures/Joint Effort/Malpaso Productions/Thunder Road Pictures-Warner Bros.
136 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 3 October 2018. Cert. 15.