Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Star is Born (semi-quickly)

Sentimentalists, this is for you.

A Star is Born 
(2018). Directed by Bradley Cooper

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Eliot

Yes, it's a third-time remake. Yes, Bradley Cooper, a non-musician, sings as well as directs (he did both smashingly). Yes, he's country, Gaga is pop. But I swear, it works, it was great, and I honestly can't remember the number of times I cried but it was a lot. I think people initially thought this was going to be a really bad, really cheesy film (and by "people" I mean mostly me) but it wasn't either of these things at all. I am still kind of crying about it now, actually.

So music is a beautiful thing, but it can also be . . . difficult. Being a musician, a writer, or an artist and staying true to yourself and what you want to say can be difficult. Life, past and present, can be difficult. These difficulties are what make the film emotional--- it's not a particularly glamorous look at stardom but one that embraces the realities of the human experience within the lives of two musicians. Jack and Ally (Cooper and Gaga) aren't totally like us, but they are a little or just enough in that they have relatable flaws, they mess up, and bad things happen to them. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is an accomplished songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist but drinks a lot. Some of his demons get explained, some don't, but his self-destruction is evident from the very beginning and we sympathize because he seems a nice, honest fellow with a back-throat Good Ol' Boy manner of country speaking. Ally (Gaga) is strong and reactionary in a had-it-with-the-world kind of way but full enough of insecurities for the audience to get swept away by everything right along with her. We root for her through our concern---everything is an ascending whirlwind and whirlwinds are exciting! Songs get written in the moment, substance abuse is constant, and yet things go on more or less okay for a while, causing us to hope against all odds for happiness or barring that, the energy and passion of the film's early scenes (illustrated perfectly by the song, "Always Remember Us This Way").

It's impossible, of course. No spoilers, although there are big hints throughout the film (and if you've seen the previous productions, of course you already know). We all have our issues; sometimes music or being loved by someone can save us. Sometimes it can't.

A few more nice details:

1. It's very inspiring to watch two people in the music, enjoying themselves. Lady Gaga is a gifted vocalist, songwriter, and pianist---most everyone probably knew this already---but some of the greatest scenes are when she and Cooper perform side by side; they make quite lovely harmony together. The bluesy/rock instrumental jam, "Out of Time," is a great accompaniment for some of these happy moments (and I can't stop playing it on my Spotify).

2. Vulnerability is portrayed very well by both actors and addressed often and in many ways, but Cooper especially puts himself into this quite skillfully toward the end of the film when everything unravels. He's done some emotionally impressive work with this role, which couldn't have been an easy thing to explore.

3. Sam Eliot is great in everything. There's a guarded closeness between his character, Bobby, a much older brother, and Cooper's Jack that really resonates, and many of the emotional scenes (some done with violent outbursts others with begrudging care) focus on this relationship as a sort of guidepost for many of Jack's problems. Their last interaction, the words Jackson speaks to his brother, and the reaction they bring are part of what's keeping me emotional about this film----"It wasn't Dad I idolized."

Well done, Coop.