Fucking Bradley Cooper, man. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a massive fan but, once again, I seem to be in the minority. We’re in a situation in which the guy has been nominated for an acting Oscar 4 times. 4 times! One Best Supporting and three Best Actor. I just don’t get it. His best role to date, in my mind, is his voice performance as Rocket Raccoon. His performance in Silver Linings Playbook was messy and over-the-top. His performance in American Hustle wasn’t exactly stand-out either. Basically, I’ve just never seen him do anything that really wowed me. He’s just been lucky enough to be surrounded by better actors who make manage to disguise him. So, when I heard he was starring in and directing a remake of A Star Is Born I was hardly queuing up outside the cinema to see it. But then is got all sorts of fucking praise and attention during awards seasons. I kept putting this film off for as along as possible but I finally had to accept that I needed to watch it. So I did. And I have some thoughts.
It’s safe to say that A Star Is Born isn’t really the kind of film that gets my motor running. I’m not a massive fan of the clichéd romantic films and this is the most cliched of all. Especially now that it’s been remade 3 times. The original was produced in 1937 and told the story of an aspiring actress falling for a faded Hollywood star. It was remade in 1954 starring Judy Garland as a wannabe singer and James Mason as a former matinée idol. Finally, in 1976 with Barbara Streisand as a young singer falling for Kris Kristofferson’s established rocker. It’s an age-old story of young female ingénue meeting an older man who helps get her into the limelight but comes with a buttload of emotional baggage. Something that we’ve seen a thousand times and is comforting solely because it’s so familiar. It’s safe and nostalgic.
Although, for his remake, Cooper has placed the focus more on the aging star rather than the rising one. A fact that makes this film seem like it’s the actor’s chance to play out his rock star fantasy. He went all out to prepare for the role; learning to sing, learning basic guitar, and co-writing the songs. You have to be honest, it’s really not a role that you’d expect Cooper to land and he is almost unrecognisable as Jackson Maine. We first see Jackson as he performs on stage to a massive crowd but we can be absolutely sure that he has passed his best. He has the unmistakable look of a man suffering through alcoholism and who has become physically and emotionally broken by stardom. He instantly falls for Ally when he sees her perform at a drag bar. So much so, that he pulls her on-stage to perform with him. An act that leads to her finding internet fame and a record contract.
The pair must then work their way through the world of love mixed with the music industry. As Ally easily finds her voice and her place in the world, Jackson finds himself becoming more irrelevant. He starts to resent Ally’s fame whilst still wanting her to succeed. As she becomes more famous, he retreats into a world of booze and depression. Something Ally is both too young and too busy to have to deal with. But, what is clear, is that the pair love each other. Something that is helped by the surprising chemistry between both Gaga and Cooper. Although, not even their chemistry can hide the uncomfortable basis of this central relationship. It can’t stop me questioning why Ally is so attracted to someone as self-destructive and unlikable as Jackson. Why she chooses to be with this misogynistic and violent cad who resents her talent.
Finally watching this film found me surprised at Lady Gaga’s performance. She’s received a lot of attention during awards season and even tied with Glenn Close for the Critics’ Choice Award. But, really, she’s nothing that special. Not bad necessarily but not Best Actress quality. It’s not like it’s all her fault because she is sidelined for most of the film but I did find her moments showing Ally’s anger were so over-the-top. Her finest acting moment is towards the end of the film where she has a tender moment with Jack’s brother, Bobby. What I will say, though, is that she completely flies when she sings. Her voice is incredible and she gives Ally a power that not many actors could. Although, you do suspect that during these moments Ally has left the building and Gaga is just on autopilot.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this film. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I preferred it to some of the other nominations I’d seen this year. But I also really didn’t like it. It’s enjoyable because you know where it’s going. It’s a safe and not very complicated film. Even the moments when Cooper allows Jackson’s mental health issues take focus don’t feel that powerful or bleak. It’s all rather tame and restrained. Kind of vanilla. Which means watching it requires no real effort. But, I can’t say that I was really blown away by anything. Well, anything but the music. The soundtrack is undeniably incredible and is, by far, the best thing about the film. It is the only time the film has any energy. The only real passion and drive comes when Ally is sat at a piano in front of a massive crowd. Imagine what this film could have been if Cooper had allowed Ally to go down a more Lady Gaga path instead of as a generic country/pop singer?
Basically, what annoys me about A Star is Born is less concerned about remaking a worn-out story and more about earning Oscar nods. Cooper is getting a lot of praise for his debut effort and, whilst it is not bad, I can’t hep but feel that’s simply because nobody expected anything of him. The fact that he manages to keep hold of the whole thing seems to have been mistaken for some sort of genius. What he does, is place this film in an obvious time period but stick to all of the outdated stereotypes of the previous 3 films. For a film brought out during a period when Hollywood is being called out for its treatment of women, it feels as though there was a missed opportunity to really explore the sexism at play in the music industry. Instead, Cooper makes the film all about himself. And his desire to finally nail that Oscar. What A Star is Born really is, is a soundtrack.