22 September 2018 | michaeljohnson-27597
A Star is Born Shines (TIFF 2018)
If you're even a casual moviegoer, chances are you have already heard the argument; that originality is dead in Hollywood. We live in an era where even Ghostbusters is no longer sacred. Where you wouldn't be surprised if one of the large studios announced a remake of the Godfather or Citizen Kane. Those remakes might capture some audience members, but those films almost certainly don't capture the audience's hearts. They certainly don't capture the praise critics. They certainly don't take home any major awards.
That all changes with A Star is Born.
Change, however, is a key word when it comes to remakes. (Or remakes of remakes of remakes...) In order to make the venture worthwhile, the film makers not only have to stay close to the ideas of original film, but they have to have a reason to retell the story. It's a delicate balance. Every version of a Star is Born follows a broken celebrity, in the Winter of his career, damaged by years of drinking who is suddenly reborn when meeting a young ingénue. The two fall in love, but while their relationship develops, their entertainment careers go in different directions.
Director and Co-Star Bradley Cooper's film seemingly borrows more from the Streisand/Kristofferson iteration of A Star is Born (the last time this story was retold), as the dynamic between the two lovers hinges on the music industry. When Streisand and Kristofferson remade the film, (for the fourth time at that point) in 1976, they broke one of the aforementioned expectations, as they both took home Golden Globes for their performances. Perhaps Cooper was more inspired by performance, rather than aesthetic, as the acting is one aspect out of many that shines in Cooper's version. The characters of Jackson Maine (Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) drive the entire story in what is essentially a film with only half a dozen notable characters. Cooper and Lady Gaga have amazing chemistry, and from the moment you see the two on screen together for the first time you feel the connection.
First time director, Cooper, deftly creates intimacy between Jackson and Ally, without which the story would certainly not be as successful. In stadiums housing thousands of fans, in small dressing rooms packed with screaming Drag Queens, in a loud dive bar, in the parking lot of an all-night-grocer, Cooper uses tight framing and sound impeccably to make it seem like they're the only two people in the world. You understand his charm, you see her vulnerability, and the two actors give side-by-side stellar performances.
That isn't to take away anything from a small, but powerful supporting cast. There were some brilliant and surprising moments from Dave Chappelle as Noodles, an old friend of Jackson's who reiterates how much Ally has revitalized Jackson. The largest surprise came from Andrew Dice Clay as Lorenzo, Ally's father. Both Clay and Chappelle brought great moments of love and humanity in their criminally small interactions with the two main characters. Sam Elliot also surprised me in his role as Bobby, Jackson's (much) older brother. They explain the age discrepancy, but the rest is self-explanatory as he and Cooper truly are brothers on screen, with all the frustration, fights and familiarity that goes with that relationship. Elliot in his similarly small time on screen, often showed the softer side of his craft, hiding touching instants of sadness when it comes to his difficult relationship with his brother, concealed only slightly by his iconic mustache.
It begs the question, does Cooper deserve all the praise as director, or does the cast? What I can glean from the film is Cooper definitely had his cast on the same page, as regardless of screen time, these actors made you care about their characters. The audience is invested. There are countless pivotal story beats where these characters may do something frustrating or angering. Instead of merely recognizing that these are hurdles to push the story further, I found myself almost vocally upset, akin to yelling at a character in a horror film to not go in the room where the killer is hiding. This film makes you want the protagonists to succeed, even when dealing with topical subplots regarding celebrity, regret, depression and substance abuse.
And that's because you're along for the ride the entire time. You're a part of this love story. The film sucks you in from the beginning with the roar of a raucous concert audience, the hard beat of the drums on Jackson's stage, and his hypnotic swagger as he plays for thousands. If you were one of the millions of people who have seen the trailer for this film, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about (kudos to the promotional department of this film, as that, is an extremely engaging and powerful trailer) but it stems from an extremely engaging and powerful film. The music, much like it did with the trailer gets inside you, not just inside your head where you find yourself humming a gentle country lilt sang by Cooper, it gets inside your heart and soul and rattles around. It repeats over and over until you're the one who doesn't want to let go. While Cooper should be commended for taking his craft seriously and improving his singing, this is where Lady Gaga shines, to no one's surprise.
Ally is a perfect role for her. The performer has spoken about how vulnerable and ugly she felt in some scenes when shooting this film, but it made her so real on screen. Ally's career, much like the first half of the film, blasts off, and all you can do is hold on until you realize the songstress is belting a powerful ballad. You wonder, much like her character "how did we get here" but at that point, you're just happy to be along for the ride. It is a testament to Lady Gaga's ability, because being such an iconic figure, if it weren't for her conveyance of sincerity and humility, the character's journey would seem forced and unfulfilling. Because of Gaga's performance, however, you relish the moment Ally can finally embrace who she is and bravely belt out her songs with no inhibition. In a film with so many moments that grab you, the music is undeniably one of my favorite aspects. I can't wait for this film to get a wider release so the studio can also make the soundtrack available.
If and when Award season comes, and A Star is Born is undeniably a forerunner for several major awards, I think Cooper should be commended simply because as director, he brought everything together. The songwriters, the actors, the cinematography, the sound design was superbly balanced to create the best possible version of this story making it, the brightest star for both critics and audiences.