Crowd-pleaser kicks off awards season
In Hollywood, “A Star Is Born” is born and reborn and reborn …
The movie we are seemingly kicking off Awards Season™ with is, in fact, the fourth time we've had a version of this story.
We've had the original 1937 film (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March), the 1954 version (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and the 1976 rendition (starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). The themes remain even as the times change.
This time we have director/co-writer/star Bradley Cooper and pop star Lady Gaga making her debut in a lead role.
Jackson Maine (Cooper) is an aging music star who performs to adoring crowds before (or sometimes while) drowning himself in booze and drugs.
One night after a show, Jackson stumbles into a bar (a drag bar, no less) and across a performance by Ally (Gaga), an unknown singer with immense talent.
The pair bonds during a sweet and drunken night out in the city. They begin to fall in love as Jackson takes on a mentor role in Ally's career.
Spoiler alert: A star is born.
Let's start with the good. This movie is clearly a showcase for the two leads (Awards Season™), and they are strong.
Cooper's boozy drawl belies the edges around Jackson's demons. There's certainly an aspect of stereotype in this portrayal of alcoholism, but the warmth gives the darkness more contrast.
It's no surprise that Gaga shines brightest when she's performing, but that's not just because she's got a generational voice. She puts a nuanced range of emotions into the singing that's not easy to pull off. And she's more than solid in the non-singing moments.
“Star” captures the live music atmosphere exceptionally well, especially thanks to Matthew Libatique's cinematography, which focuses lightly on the characters even as thousands are in the background.
It isn't hard to argue that these two performances, as well as the musical numbers, will make “Star” a crowd-pleaser.
But at times the storytelling borders on sloppy. Supporting characters feel like props, particularly an odd appearance by Dave Chappelle.
At times it feels like “A Star Is Born” is drunkenly stumbling on its way to the stage to accept all its Oscars.