Film review: ‘A STAR IS BORN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built for Speed’

Directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Cooper and Lady Gaga, this fourth film version of A Star is Born is an effectively raw if at times cliched take on what is both a doomed romance and cautionary tale about the price of fame.

Cooper plays old school rock star Jackson Maine, a prodigiously talented singer/ song writer but also an emotionally damaged alcoholic and drug addict. Stumbling into a bar one night he’s mesmerised by the resident singer Ally (Lady Gaga). An impassioned romance ensues and Maine encourages her to perform with his band but in so doing she earns the attention of a creepy British star-maker Rez (Rafi Gavron). As she ascends the ranks of pop stardom Maine begins to fail in his battle with his demons and plunges deeper into an abyss of alcohol and drugs.

As Maine, Cooper is the stereotypical tortured wretch, a perpetually sozzled stumble-bum with straggly, greasy hair and a grumbling voice reminiscent of Jeff Bridges’ character in True Heart. Cooper makes Maine a sympathetic character and he’s very convincing as a rock musician but it still feels like a performance. As Ally, Lady Gaga is essentially playing herself minus the meat costume. She’s a fine choice for the role because her quest to prove herself as an actor mirrors Ally’s uncertain quest to succeed as a singer. For the film to really succeed, Jackson and Ally’s romance needed to be convincing and emotionally moving. Lady Gaga and Cooper seem like genuine lovers here but they don’t have thrilling chemistry.

Among the supporting cast, Sam Elliot brings his usual outlaw ruggedness to the role of Jackson’s brother and tour manager Bobby although he doesn’t give an indelible performance. Dave Chappelle also appears as Jackson’s long-time buddy George ‘Noodles’ Stone and while it’s intriguing to see him in a dramatic role it’s a fairly inconsequential one.

Cooper’s direction is a mixed bag but mostly impressive. He gives the film a glossy surface and delivers a few striking compositions including hypnotic shots of Ally staring in awe as Maine performs on stage. Cooper’s depiction of Maine’s live gigs is particularly impressive as he superbly captures the chaos and sweaty energy of huge stadium show. In an apparent attempt to immerse us in the characters’ emotions, however, he overdoes the mid-shots and close-ups. Also, at times the film seems to jump awkwardly between major plot points such as Ally’s shift from bluesy balladeer to pop diva. The pacing is also laboured in some scenes making what should have been romantic, heartfelt and cathartic moments a little flat.

The inevitable problem with fictitious rock movies is that the songs are often generic and unconvincing. Here, the songs, which are a mix of blues rock and power ballads, feel authentic even if they’re not scintillating.

As a third remake of A Star is Born, this film just manages to exceed expectations and while, for this reviewer, it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop it should, it signals the emergence of two fine talents: Cooper as director and Lady Gaga as dramatic actor.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Music/ romantic drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Bradley Cooper.

Release date: 18th Oct 2018.

Running time: 136 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

 

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