A star is born review: the movie is a hell of a magic trick

     

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are stunning together in Cooper's rapturous roông chồng 'n' roll remake of a lãng mạn saga that never gets old.

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“A Star Is Born” is that thing we always yearn for but so rarely get lớn see: a transcendent Hollywood movie. It’s the fourth remake of a story that dates baông chồng lớn 1932, but this one has a look & vibe all its own — rapturous và swooning, but also delicate and intimate và luminous. It’s set in the present day, but in spirit it’s a sophisticated retro ’70s drama built around the uncanny flow of feeling that develops between the movie’s two stars: Bradley Cooper, who plays Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking, bad-ol’-boy redneông xã rochồng ‘n’ roller who is still hanging on as a popular attraction but has lost the lust for what he’s doing, and Lady Gaga, in her fetching và accomplished movie-star debut, as Ally, an ingenuous, fresh-faced singer-songwriter who becomes his lover và stage partner before rocketing on her own inkhổng lồ the new pop stratosphere.


She takes off as he slowly crashes — that’s the soapy tragic “Star Is Born” concept. But what the moviedoes is to lớn take this fabled melodramatic thắm thiết seesaw and turn it into something indelibly heartfelt & revealing. Cooper directed the movie himself, working from a script he co-wrote with Eric Roth và Will Fetters, và khổng lồ say that he does a good job would be lớn understate his accomplishment. As a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper gets right onto the high wire, staging scenes that take their time và play out with a shaggy intimacy that’s shorn of the usual “beats.” The new “Star Is Born” is a total emotional knockout, but it’s also a movie that gets you khổng lồ believe sầu, at every step, in the complicated rapture of the story it’s telling.

The 1976 version, starring Barbra Streisvà and Kris Kristofferson, had some terrific cornball love songs, but they didn’t belong anywhere near the stadium-roông xã stage, and neither did Streisand, which is part of why the movie came off as borderline ludicrous. It seemed stranded, with a kind of campy sincere ineptitude, between three worlds: Old Hollywood, New Hollywood, & Barbra Streisand rock-princess fantasy.

But from the electrifying opening moments of the new version, in which Jackson, boozy và raw, with his sunburned squint & hard-bitten shit-kicker sexiness, takes the stage of a gigantic stadium & launches into a grinding slow rocker that sounds like “Victyên of Love”-era Eagles as done by the Allman Brothers, the movie is thrillingly authentic. That’s no minor accomplishment. Hollywood almost never succeeds in nailing the roông xã world, but “A Star Is Born,” though a love story through và through, is the most lived-in rock ‘n’ roll movie since “Almost Famous.” And that absolute looks right, sounds right, feels right verisimilitude sets the stage for everything that follows.

Jackson, who looks khổng lồ be in his mid-40s, has been around long enough that he now occupies a grey zone between legkết thúc và nostalgia. He can still fill an arena full of screaming fans, và his old hits have sầu become classic-rock chestnuts, but his sound và persomãng cầu have long slipped out of the zeitgeist. His whole outlaw look — the beard & rancher’s hat, the Kristofferson-meets-Skynyrd soused mamang đến twinkle — mark hyên as a charismatic relic, and the grvà irony is this: What that look, & sound, are all about is an era when roông chồng ‘n’ roll strutted its “authentithành phố,” but now that he’s out of date, Jackson’s authenticity looks more than ever lượt thích a showbiz conceit, frozen in amber. It’s a part he’s playing, an image he’s working — và secretly struggling —to lớn keep alive sầu. He’s got a signature ballad that goes “Maybe it’s time khổng lồ let the old ways die,” & when he wrote it (long ago), he probably didn’t know that he was talking about himself.


In the first of many telling jump cuts, the film leaps from his on-stage glory to Jackson slinking into lớn the bachồng of his car, weary và alone, grabbing the bottle of gin he’s got stashed there. He takes a guzzle, and Cooper, acting with his body toàn thân, lets you feel just how much Jackson (between sickly coughs) needs the lifeblood of that drink. It’s what he believes in more than the show he’s just finished.

How do you play a drunk? We know, of course, that the answer is not lớn “play drunk,” but Cooper doesn’t just avoid the usual slurry shambling (though at key moments he does a little of that too, & it’s powerful). He brings off something I’ve sầu rarely seen done this exquisitely: He plays blitzed, very functional & in his element, his smile and reflexes greased by the liquor. Jackson speaks in a deep, low, deliberate Southern-stud growl — a voice with real music in it, though one that lets you taste all the booze it’s marinated in.

Needing another drink, he has his driver drop him off at the first available bar, which turns out khổng lồ be a roadside dive on drag-queen karaoke night. It’s not his scene, but he doesn’t mind. He’s the same celebrity everywhere he goes, so he’s in the perfect mood of lit-up contentment when she walks on stage.

She is Ally, the one non-drag performer of the night (she’s friends with all the queens there, so they let her sing for real). When she enters the room, the movie pulls off a neat triông chồng. We’ve already seen Ally break up with her boyfrikết thúc over the phone, letting out a banshee wail in the process, và when she appears in heavy white-make up và pasted on half-circle eyebrows, her hair teased inlớn a punked-out French pastry, then does a strutting-down-the-bar version of “La Vie en Rose” that she milks for every flourish of theatrical kitsch she can, we think, “Of course! How Gaga-netic!” Backstage after the show, Jackson gently pulls off one of Ally’s eyebrows và asks her out for a drink.

But when she emerges from the dressing room minus all the Gaga trappings, we’re shocked to lớn see a young woman with softly falling straight brown hair và the sweethử nghiệm of chiclet-tooth grins, và this is the movie’s way of saying: Ladies & gentlemen, meet Lady Gaga, actress. A character we haven’t seen before.

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Ally, make no mistake, has sass lớn spare (later that evening, when Jackson is confronted by a troublemaker at his favorite cop bar, she gives hlặng a punch), but Gaga, in an ebullient và winningly direct performance, never lets her own star quality get in the way of the character. Or, rather, she lets us see that star chất lượng is something that lives inside Ally but is still waiting to lớn come out (the way it was in the young Streisvà of “Funny Girl”). Ally works as a waitress and lives with her dad, the Sinatra-fixated passive-aggressive sầu Teddy bear Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) in a modest suburban neighborhood, and she và Jackson strike an unforced connection. He can let down his guard around her, & his wistful melancholy starts khổng lồ seep out.

Cooper has made a jaggedly tender love sầu story that is never over-the-top, an operatic movie that dares khổng lồ be quiet. Ally has something that Jacksonrecognizes because he used lớn have it too: the songwriter’s passion, the drive to take your own story & turn it into lớn a jukebox poem. They have sầu a great conversation about her Roman nose — which plays, knowingly, off the prejudices of the music industry that Gaga confronted on her way up. Ally thinks her nose is too big (or so she’s been told), but Jackson thinks it’s beautiful — and, of course, he’s right.

Helistens to a tuy vậy she wrote, & can tell that she’s got the gift, so after wooing her to one of his concerts, he suddenly brings her onstage to lớn sing that tuy nhiên with hlặng. It’s called “Shallow,” and when their voices melt together on the line “We’re far from the shallow now,” we melt along with them, và when Ally suddenly sends the tuy nhiên into lớn a higher register, you will feel tingles rippling through your body. It’s an absolutely ecstatic moment, because it’s about the fusion of these two voices and souls, about Jackson coming baông chồng to lớn life, about Ally realizing her destiny, và about the audience’s rediscovery of what romance in a movie can still be: a volt to lớn the heart.

Does Jackson want Ally lớn become a star? Sort of. He’s the one who makes it possible, but after a video clip of their live sầu duet goes viral, she’s approached after a show by a rock manager, Dez (Rafi Gavron), who gives her the I-can-make-you-a-star rap. Immediately, we know where this is going: lớn a place Jackson is not going to like. The manager represents the dissolution of Jackson’s sway over Ally, something the movie views in contemporary feminist terms. In his dissolute-rocker way, Jackson is grounded in the old male establishment, a place where Ally can be a “girl singer.” What he doesn’t realize is that she’s going to lớn embrace stardom on her own terms, và they aren’t his.


Rafi Gavron’s terrific performance as Rez, the tough-love manager, is a great example of what’s so compelling about the new “Star Is Born.” We’ve seen this character — slichồng, British, corporate — before, and he’s always played as an insidious pest who symbolizes the big sellout. But that’s not the way Gavron plays him. He makes Rez a smart & compelling straight shooter, & the movie never caricatures him as a sleaze.

Instead, it flips our expectations. Ally gets plugged inkhổng lồ the 21st-century pop machine — high-dazzle robotic choreography, a new glam look with flaming red hair, the whole truyền thông media swirl, complete with meticulously timed rollout performance on “Saturday Night Live” — & we realize that the film is playing off Lady Gaga’s own rise. The fascination of this is that instead of satirizing Ally’s journey as some sort of plunge into synthetic kinh doanh decadence, the movie says, in essence: This is the new landscape, same as the old landscape. Next to Jackson’s world, it looks “inauthentic” (and viewers of a certain age may automatically view it that way), but Jackson’s world probably looked inauthentic khổng lồ the generation before it. The movie says that in pop (as in life), it’s always time for the old ways khổng lồ die, và for the new ways to be born.

That’s what Jackson can’t handle, và it’s why he drinks. Cooper has a couple of scenes in which Jackson gets sloppy and nasty: he “affectionately” smears Ally’s face with cake, và when she’s taking a bath, & he’s really sozzled, he starts to lớn rag on her và even drops the U-word (“ugly”), which shocks us. But it’s part of the power of “A Star Is Born” that their relationship is never one-note; it’s tender, sexy, angry, jealous, và sad, all at the same time. It’s a real love sầu, & could have sầu stayed that way except that Jackson is too broken. The movie lets us touch his damage, body toàn thân & soul: the hearing loss accompanied by tinnitus (which we hear on the soundtrack), the sense that going through the motions of stardom for too long has ground hlặng khổng lồ a weary nub. Sam Elliott, with White hair, his mopey bluntness sharper than ever, plays Jackson’s older brother, Bobby, who has been his road manager for years (but has had it with cleaning up after Jackson’s messes), and the two actors give their fights, and embraces, a deeply rooted sense of the past. They got a raw deal growing up with a drunken father, and they’re still playing it out.

The best version of “A Star Is Born” has always been the 1954 George Cukor version: moody, purplish, extravagant, driven by Judy Garland’s self-dramatizing fever. The scene you remember best from it, apart from Garlvà singing “The Man That Got Away,” is James Mason’s demented drunken slap of Garl& during the Academy Awards — one of the most outrageous moments in movie history. In the new “Star Is Born,” Bradley Cooper pays homage to that moment, in a scene set at the Grammys, and actually tops it in outrageousness, in sick-joke masochistic power. And he does it convincingly. That’s part of the magnetic pull of this version — it, too, is a romance heightened by the cruel mirror of showbiz. Yet it has a naked humanity that leaves you wowed. These two people, the rising star và the fading star, are locked in a love as true as it is torn, và by the end of the movie they’ve both become us. “A Star Is Born” is a reminder of the scrappy grand passion that movies are all about.

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Film Review: ‘A Star Is Born’

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition), Aug. 31, 2018. Running time: 135 MIN.

Production:A Warner Bros. release, in association with Live Nation Productions, in association with MGM Pictures, of a Jon Peters/Bill Gerber/Joint Effort Production prod. Producers: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor. Executive sầu producers: Ravi Mehta, Basil Iwanyk, Niija Kuykendall, Sue Kroll, Michael Rapino, Heather Parry.

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Crew:Director: Bradley Cooper. Screenplay: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Camera (color, widescreen): Matthew Libatique. Editor: Jay Cassidy. Music: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell, Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Diane Warren.With:Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Dave Chappelle, Rebecca Field, Michael Harney, Shangela Laquifa Wadley, William Belli, Anthony Ramos. Music By:

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