Movie Review: “A Star Is Born” (2018)

220px-A_Star_is_BornNote I had to say that this is about the 2018 version, as opposed to the 1937 version, the 1954 version, or the 1976 version. This concept of a young woman being plucked from obscurity by an older male star and rising to fame is an enduring one, apparently. In this edition, the young woman is named Ally, and portrayed by Lady Gaga, and the man is named Jackson Maine, and portrayed by Bradley Cooper, who also directs.

I’d give you the plot summary, but in truth, I pretty much just did: there’s not a lot to the story besides what I outlined above. The two meet, Jackson instantly sees Ally’s promise, and soon has her singing onstage at one of his concerts. Before long, the two are married, and Ally is skyrocketing to fame, while Jackson is plagued by alcoholism and lingering issues from his troubled family life. All seems poised to work out until…

Spoiler Warning!

…Jackson kills himself, apparently because of a combination of worsening tinnitus, and the fact that Ally’s manager, Rez, has taken a dislike to him. No, really; he has a brief confrontation with Rez, in which Rez tells Jackson to keep away from Ally–that’s right; from his own wife--and Jackson hangs himself afterward. I wasn’t buying that.

Look, I don’t want to be flip, but there wasn’t much more to the movie than that. I’m not saying it’s an awful movie–most of the performances are good, and I’ve always liked Lady Gaga, even though I’ve never listened to her music. She has a very nice voice, and most of the musical numbers are therefore pleasant to listen to.

It just felt… artificial. The story is not a complex one, apart from the sad ending, which seemed tacked-on to give the story weight. Though, in fairness, this seems to be an inherited trait from the original. I think that someone back in the ’30s (Dorothy Parker, probably) realized there was no interesting way to end the story unless somebody died.

Well, it showed. The quality of the plot seemed soap-opera-ish to me. Indeed, I get the idea that the writers must have felt that what they had was rather saccharine, and so they were looking for a way to make it edgier.

The answer the writers appear to have hit on was to use the F-bomb as much as they possibly could. It is used as an intensifier when people are angry. It is used when they are not angry. It is used repeatedly in casual conversation, and for no apparent reason. An occasional “goddam” is sprinkled here and there, but this is the exception that proves the rule.

To be clear, I have no problem with strong language. There are times when the scene and the character demand the strongest obscenities a writer can command. These words exist in our language for a reason, and when the situation arises should be unhesitatingly deployed.

But the word is used too liberally here; and by many different characters. It is used so much it grates on the ear. At a certain point, I found myself wishing they would use a different word, any word, even if it were one more hideously offensive than the obscenity du jour, just to break the monotony.

And I hate to make this accusation; I really do–but I have to believe this was done just to make this “PG” story a solid “R”. There’s some brief nudity that I suspect was included for this reason as well. But that was only for a second; if they had taken the same approach to nudity as they did to language, everyone would have gone around naked for half the film.

(If anyone’s wondering, the single best use of an obscenity I’ve ever seen in cinema occurs in the comedy The Brothers Bloom. That’s some effective swearing.)

Again, it was not a terrible film, but I didn’t feel like it was a must-see. A decent romantic drama; nothing more. It felt overlong to me, but then, the easiest scenes to cut would be the songs, and I think everyone would agree those are also the best parts.

I’ll be honest: I wish they’d written a new story. Something else with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga singing, as opposed to just giving an old story a new coat of obscene paint. But I guess this theme is one that resonates with people, and has for a long time: the idea that a seemingly ordinary person can be elevated to the ranks of the wealthy and famous–it’s a quintessentially American rags-to-riches story, in the spirit of Horatio Alger, and therefore will probably always be popular.

6 Comments

  1. Wife is a biiiiiiiiiiigggggggg Streisand fan. She’s made me watch the ’78 version countless times. She wasn’t happy after we watched this one and I said Lady Gaga acted circles around Streisand. She did, the ’78 has dreadful acting and watching Streisand try to and prance to a rock song at the end is dreadful.

    1. Lady Gaga was the best thing about this movie, for sure. I haven’t seen the ’78 version. (And I’m not in a big rush to, either.)

  2. I’ve never seen any of the other versions of this movie, so I’m a virgin when it comes to A Star Is Born. I’m also not necessarily a big fan of Lady Gaga.

    While I agree with you about some of your points … it is a pretty basic story, for example … aren’t most Hollywood movies ultimately overly simplified?

    A few interesting things … I can get annoyed at excessive F-bombs, but I don’t remember that being an issue with this movie. There was brief nudity? Wait? What? When?

    My biggest issue with the movie was that the Cooper character just seemed so stereotyped. But beyond that … I loved the music (except when Gaga became a dancing queen) and just got sucked into the story the more it moved along.

    I guess we’ll have to disagree. Just this one time. 😉

    1. You are correct; most Hollywood movies are oversimplified. And this isn’t an inherently bad thing; either. Simple can be good! Where the movie really lost me, I guess, was in the bit where Cooper’s character commits suicide seemingly just because of what the obnoxious manager says. It just felt really forced for him to do that after he’d been through rehab, and seemingly things were on the upswing. I know, they tried to foreshadow it but… it just didn’t work for me.

      If it had happened after he embarrassed Ally at the Grammys, now; that would have made complete sense.

      I enjoyed the music too. I should probably have talked about that more, but I’m no good at writing about music. I know what I like, but I’m terrible at describing it.

      P.S. There’s a brief shot of Lady Gaga standing up in the bathtub after she and Cooper fight. It was so brief, it probably doesn’t count as nudity; but again, it felt to me like it was just added for no reason other than to be suggestive.

  3. I have not seen any of the movies. As you wrote, pretty simple plot, which sounds pretty boring to me. Not a fan of Gaga either.

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