Directed by Bradley Cooper
Starring Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
MPAA rating: R
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
I am excited by the prospect of living without a body
I am ungrateful and this proves it
You find it easy to adapt
To an environment carefully constructed
For your purposes
I am ungrateful and this proves it
Here you will find it less exhausting
To abuse anything in particular
I am ungrateful and this proves it
-Mothers, “WEALTH CENTER / RISK CAPITAL”
It’s hard to let yourself sit with loss, to allow the emotions course through you without actively numbing them. It’s like going up a spiral staircase every day without getting anywhere. You feel the same circular waves of sadness, anger, emptiness…over and over again. Up and up: sadness, anger, emptiness. Climb even higher: that same sadness, anger, emptiness. I know it gets better, it usually does. At least, they say it gets better. I want to believe them.
Almost exactly this time last year, my friends and I suffered a very acute loss. Our friend Keith. He was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Philly from Los Angeles about 14 years ago. The way I remember him, he was always smiling, eyes twinkling as he laughed at a joke or a quip. He had a knack for investing himself in anything and everything you loved, like it was his True Quest. Inquisitive to the core, a real detective, he would seek out things you might like - music, books, movies, obscure British tv shows (in the era before Netflix, mind you). He’d take it one step further and march over to your house, armed with a USB chock full of all these great new things he’d sought out and downloaded, carefully curated, just for you. When he listened to what you were saying, you knew he was engaged. You could feel it. He was beyond present. He was listening because he cared. I always felt he was a true champion of his friends, and they were the same for him. His loss, our loss, has been conflicting for me - we knew he had been suffering for many years but I think many of us remained eternally optimistic that he would turn things around. That he would get better. That we would wake up every morning to a world where Keith still walked among us.
A Star Is Born is all about this kind of loss. Every single adaptation of the original 1937 film is about it, how we adapt or not, how we wade through it, or sink further. A couple years ago when I first read about Hollywood Hunk Bradley Cooper’s intention to remake the iconic story about two stars - one fading, one looming, falling tragically in love - with Lady Gaga no less, I think I scoffed, laughed, sent the article around to my Moviejawn pals so we could scoff and laugh, and then wrote it off in my mind as the biggest movie joke to land in fall 2018. Whyyyyyy remake a film that’s already had an original and two fairly iconic remakes? You have your purists who claim the 1937 version reigns supreme; then you have your Judy Garland fanatics (like myself) who only see the 1954 ASIB as worthy; then there’s also the folks who can’t do without the 1976 Streisand / Kristofferson joint; my dad also argues that Bette Midler’s The Rose is a loose adaptation of the story but I dunno about all that (since he’s my dad and knows more than me I’m including it anyway).
And, you know, I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong. So…I was really, truly wrong about A Star Is Born (2018). The film has it’s own particular flavor and newness that comfortably secures its place in the pantheon of oh, like ten other A Star Is Born offerings. And maybe even beyond, if the Cooper / Gaga memes coasting across the internet are any indication. And then of course, there’s this:
My friend Earle sent me the above pic after seeing it on Twitter last night. Apparently the latest ASIB is having a real moment. Even my brother, Max, a serious hardcore musician and wrestling enthusiast with more tattoos than fingers and toes, is enamored with this film. I’m not trying to stereotype him or others like him based on that description, but I’m trying to stereotype him or others like him based on that description. He’s certainly not what I would call the target market for ASIB (2018). Well over a week before the film’s release date, Max mysteriously texted me some of the music from the soundtrack without explanation. When I pressed him further about it, he admitted to joking about the movie with his friends but slowly coming around to it, going so far as to order the film’s poster for his living room BEFORE EVEN SEEING IT. He has since watched it with some of his friends and they all loved it. Loved it! So there you go. A Cult Is Born.
At TIFF last month, the buzz surrounding the film was that it was way better than anyone could have ever imagined, but people (ahem, legit film reviewers) were all Major Sads about the ending. Which made me feel some type of way because have you not seen any of the other SEVENTEEN versions of A Star Is Born? Do you not know what this is about? This is not a love story. This is a cautionary tale. Please, for the love of BCoops whatever you do, do not fall in love with the relationship in ASIB, do not declare them your OTP because honey, you may never come back from the ending.
For those well aware of the story, we know Lady Gaga’s Ally is in Major Trubs the minute depressed alcoholic superstar rock god Jackson Maine lays sleepy time eyes on her. She’s singing in a local bar; he accidentally stumbles into aforementioned local bar in search of a much-needed drink after polishing off the contents of his gin bottle. And Ally, after spending an unspecified amount of time with him that night, knows it. She tells her dad (a subdued yet entertaining Andrew Dice Clay) very plainly that Maine is a drunk, alluding to her father’s own past with the disease. But Ally and Jackson remain in each other’s orbit, and even if you haven’t seen any of the other 35 ASIB remakes floating out there in the world, I think you can tell where this is going. You can, right? Do you get it yet? I don’t want to spell it out for you.
And I won’t spell it out in plain English but I will say this. There’s a scene about two-thirds into the new film, after Jackson has started his tremendous fall and Ally’s pop tart rise is cemented post-makeover, where Ally comes home to find Jackson gloriously, shamelessly, mid-morningly drunk. It was a chilling scene for me, thinking about our friend Keith, remembering when things started to turn truly downward. Jackson’s loss is already secured - he’s far gone but hasn’t yet hit bottom (that will come a little later). Ally’s impending loss is starting to materialize right before her very eyes, but as we know, we can’t save people from themselves. Oh, but Ally will surely try. Cue music. And tears.
Speaking of music, the soundtrack is painfully good. I say “painfully” because like, omg, I can’t believe I’m saying this at all. But I want to listen to some (read: all) of these songs again, with headphones, over and over. The live music scenes are full-bodied and warm and pulsating - especially the performance opening the film. At the very beginning, the music started to suck me in and I was like “fine, just do your stuff movie and then let me be.” Maine’s aesthetic could best be described as alt-country meets Southern rock - like if The Black Keys and Rascall Flatts and Pearl Jam all melded into one beautiful jam band. Ok, maybeeeee not a jam band because that’s probably not the right moniker. But you get what I’m saying. That’s not the music I typically listen to, but there’s something universally catchy and impressive going on with the music, a collaboration between Cooper, Gaga, Lukas Nelson (Willie Nelson’s son), Marc Ronson, and others. The concert scenes, primarily the ones featuring duets between Ally and Jackson, are electric - but, thankfully and more importantly, they’re believable.
Equally believable is the relationship between Ally and Jackson, a fine showcase for the natural connection between Gaga and Cooper. Their performances are entirely authentic, especially Cooper - he’s near unrecognizable throughout most of the film, employing a similar accent and voice to his character in American Sniper. Sam Elliott is the best he’s been in years, as Jackson’s unfulfilled brother who, instead of focusing on his own musical aspirations, gives ‘em up to manage his younger brother’s larger than life career. A brief scene featuring a welcoming Dave Chappelle with Cooper would have to be my favorite - Chappelle floats in and out of the story so quickly yet you aren’t confused about who he is nor do you feel his appearance out of place: a true mark of a solid script and dialogue.
The 47th remake of A Star is Born (2018) veers at times towards cheez whiz depiction of the seedy side of show biz but ultimately it’s a worthy directorial debut. Please don’t be fooled - this is not a love story set amidst the chintzy backdrop of Hollywood pomp and circumstance, celebrity obsession, and destructive narcissism. As I’ve said, this is a story about loss - almost all of the characters endure it - some ultimately break under its weight while others merely falter. They say it’s better to feel loss, experience every single icky emotion, to get to the other side. I believe them.