A Star Is Born needs no introduction. It’s a classic love story between the alcoholic showbiz veteran and an aspiring starlet looking for a big break that has been around since the original 1937 Janet Gaynor and Fredric Marsh version (some might argue it was the 1932’s What Price Hollywood? that hatched the idea in the first place). Since then, it has been remade twice — including the Judy Garland and James Mason version in 1954 and the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version in 1976.
But instead of exploring the same Hollywood showbiz theme previously seen in the 1937 and 1954 versions, the 2018 remake follows closely to the 1976 rendition of the contemporary music scene. The setup is more or less the same: Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is an alcoholic country rocker who just completed a big concert and decided to make a stop at a bar (in this version, it’s a drag bar) one night for some booze. From there, he met Ally (Lady Gaga) and immediately drawn to her incredible voice when she performs a seductive cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” on stage. They subsequently get to know to each other and the rest, well, you know the story.
When A Star Is Born made its debut at the 75th Venice International Film Festival back in late August, the critical responses were overwhelmingly positive. It didn’t stop there, as word-of-mouth grew stronger and the movie gained serious momentum when it opened in the US cinemas two weeks before our local release date on October 18th. Which leaves me this all-important question: is the movie as great as most critics been singing praises all over?
Well, I have to say the 2018 remake is overrated. It’s decent, to say the least, but definitely not as great as I thought it would be. But before I get to the flaws, here’s what I like about this movie. For a first-time director, Bradley Cooper made quite an impression employing lots of intimate close-up shots with the help of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who is best known for his collaborations with Darren Aronofsky in acclaimed movies like Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010). It’s like getting up, close and personal with these two stars (Cooper’s Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga’s Ally), making it feel like you are watching a documentary about their lives both professionally and personally minus the usual shaky-cam aesthetics.
Cooper pulls off a convincing role of an alcoholic, spending most of the time mumbling his words and looking dishevelled. But I’m particularly surprised the way he actually able to sing and play the guitar like a seasoned musician.
He pairs well with Lady Gaga, who marks her first lead role as an actress. At first, I thought it was a risky move for casting her in such a pivotal role that might backfire big-time. Besides, most of us have grown accustomed to watching her as an accomplished singer than an actress. And yet, she defies all the odds and actually turns out to be a good actress after all. Not that she never acted before, given her prior experience in movies including Machete Kills (2013) and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014). But this is the first time ever I get to see more of her acting ability in a single movie. She’s even better whenever she is singing on stage. Whether she croons the seductive French number of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” or pours her heart out in a heartfelt duet alongside Bradley Cooper in “Shallow” — a power ballad that bounds to be a huge favourite to nab an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, her incredible vocal range is simply undeniable.
The supporting actors are equally remarkable, with both Sam Elliott alongside Andrew Dice Clay and Anthony Ramos providing strong supports as Jackson’s older brother Bobby, Ally’s limo-driver Lorenzo and Ally’s best friend Ramon respectively.
Now, as much as I enjoy both Cooper and Gaga’s performances, it’s kind of a pity that the movie suffers from a clichéd-ridden storyline. Sure, we have all the essential elements here — the music scene, the road to fame and its consequences, alcoholism. And yet, everything in this movie doesn’t dig deeper beyond the surface. Which is why it’s hard for me to root for Jackson’s personal demons as well as his continuous struggle with alcoholism. It’s like Cooper able to get it right on how an alcoholic normally behaves but then again, the surface-level storytelling fails to make his character worth sympathising for. The same reason goes to Gaga as well. Her journey from a small-time performer in a drag bar to her subsequent path as an established singer should have been explored further. But what we get here instead is nothing more than a stereotypical rags-to-riches tale.
Then, there’s the editing that bothers me the most. It feels choppy to the point the movie loses control, particularly during the second half of the movie. The 135-minute runtime poses another problem. It feels overlong and this is especially evident during the final stretch of the movie. It doesn’t help either when Cooper’s increasingly melodramatic approach drowns the movie deeper.