I resisted this film for a bit. I always knew I would see it, but it wasn’t jumping out of the screen during movie trailers like other movies have in the past, I knew it was something I’d want to catch up with before the Oscars. Lady Gaga named herself after my favorite band ever, Bradley Cooper hasn’t made a bad movie in about ten years, and between me and you… I really like musicals. Right before the Oscars, I knew it was time to take this movie off my list and put it onto my TV.
A Star Is Born is the tale as old as time. This is the fourth remake of the film in a series which began before movies were even in color. The other versions, released respectively in 1937, 1954, and 1976 all had similarities, and differences. Differences in musical focus, different focus on different characters, and different areas of the country as the back drop. The gap between the 1st and 2nd versions was only 17 years (not that we haven’t seen worse); between the 2nd and 3rd version was 22 years, and the latest gap was 42. It’s the only version ever made in my lifetime, and in all honesty, it’s the only version when the male character was the lead (debatable, I grant you). Lots of differences in language, too.
What wasn’t different at all, was the main points of the plot: a drunken musician finds the next big star by accident, falls in love with her, gives her a nudge, and watches her begin her rise to a stardom that will likely reach grander heights than he saw in his own career. A star is born as she sets about telling the world what it is she has to say. As she begins to rise, he begins to fall, they pass each other on the slope of this mountain called life, and she keeps going up, while he keeps going down, by the end, she’s at the very top, and he’s at the very bottom.
The film seems to be a fluffy piece about music, accomplishing your dreams, becoming famous, and changing your life, but really it’s the window dressing for more important conversations about mental health, substance abuse, codependency, and coping with tragedy.
We don’t see these stories as often lately, when I think about movies that focus on substance abuse a few come to mind that are of a very high caliber. For me the top five respectively are: Leaving Las Vegas, Candy, Flight, Basketball Diaries, and Smashed. A Star Is Born doesn’t crack the top five for me, but it’s been added to the list for sure. The previous iterations of film focused on the same up the mountain/down the mountain story, but the catalyst in most of the cases was jealousy, not substance abuse. It made the story much more realistic, and something we can all relate, too.
A few things other things stood out for me above the rest, and on those I’d like to focus a little more.
- Actors who sing
Bradley Cooper was really the quadruple threat in this picture, and for anyone who didn’t enjoy movies like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, or American Sniper and still think he’s just the guy from The Hangover, it’s time to wake up. Bradley Cooper wrote a lot of the music, sang all his own songs, performed in his greatest acting role as of the time of this writing, and oh yeah…HE DIRECTED IT, TOO. I read that he spent over a year learning how to sing, 5 days a week, 4 hours a day, specifically trying to lower his voice an octave. He spoke in interviews about being nervous to send Lady Gaga songs and writing because of what a tremendous singing talent she is. When she expressed agreement and a love of his music, he was floored.
Bradley Cooper has got it, he deserved the nod he got for this acting role. The song he sang with Lady Gaga in the film, on tour in real life, and in a steamy Oscar performance did in fact win Best Original Song, too. Good on ya, Bradley.
Bradley Cooper can go write songs and release albums if he wants to now. He’ll never be able to reach the musical heights that he has reached in his acting though. He’s reached the top. I don’t know anyone who likes Queen as much as I do. I was very excited for the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody film, and while I don’t think it measured up to my expectations, I spent the weeks afterwards telling folks that I think Rami Malek should get the Oscar. Then I saw A Star Is Born, and now I’m confident to say to you all… Bradley Cooper was better, and he deserved the statue. Alas, life isn’t fair. Rami won.
2. Singers who act
I’ve always been into this idea. Singing, stage presence, the storytelling that goes into recording… singing has a lot of the same needs as acting. I think more singers in history could have made that transition successfully than tried. Casting Lady Gaga as an aspiring singer? Not a huge reach creatively, but man oh man did she exceed expectations. The singing is great, the songs, the performances, all that stuff was perfect. That’s what she does though, the real successes for her in this movie were the moments when she wasn’t singing. The notion of casting Lady Gaga to be a great singer is pretty easy, but she did a great job with the acting in my opinion, and that of Academy. Lady Gaga won a Grammy for acting in 2016, so this is certainly not a fluke that she got the nod. Her passion for songwriting transitioned well into storytelling.
I’d have to assume that the journey to becoming a world famous singer in real life was not an easy path, Gaga was able to draw upon her experiences from real life to help tell the tale of Ali’s accent into stardom. That part of the film doesn’t take up many minutes, but in it we are able to see Ali as she truly is, then as the star she’s expected to be, earning the praise of all, and transitioning backwards a few steps to her true self again at the end.
Again, this role isn’t exactly something I’d call out of Gaga’s comfort zone, but I can’t argue with the acting and the soul she put into each scene. It deserved a nod, but not the statue. For me it proved what she is capable of. I hope this isn’t it for her, I’d like to see her in more down the line.
It must be touched upon also, that even though it’s more about music than acting, her range in vocals in the film is impressive to say the least. She sings pop, country, she sings in French, and several others.
I’m going to admit it to you, that I know in my core that none of these songs are exactly changing our lives for a long period of time. That said, I think it must just be the fact that the guy from The Hangover could become this other dude so effectively. If he wasn’t singing, I don’t think any of it would be overly stand out, but that completes this piece of acting for me. He needs to be this gravely alcoholic singer, past his prime, clinging on to something… if he wasn’t doing the singing, it might not work. He does though, and again… these songs will fade into memory sooner rather than later, but I’ve had the shit on repeat for about two months, I’m definitely getting my listens in.