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Monday, October 15, 2018


Lady Gaga confirms her very considerable singing skills but also shows some serious acting chops in Bradley Cooper’s very watchable fourth edition of the Hollywood classic. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8/10)

A star is born ... while another crashes and burns. So far, so familiar. Most of us know this perennially American story so don’t expect any plot surprises in this fourth rendition of the classic that began with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (1937) and continued with Judy Garland and James Mason (1954) and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (1976).

Cooper, in his directorial debut, has now achieved the considerable feat of re-designing this classic tale for 21st century audiences. Familiarity with the story profile has clearly not stopped people from connecting with the magnetic texture of the film. Key to this, of course, is the central pairing of Cooper and Lady Gaga as the fading country rocker and his glowing chrysalis. Whatever else happens, their chemistry has to combust for the film to succeed – and it does, in spades.

Then there’s the music itself, much of it recorded live on set. It’s a mix of torch songs, rootsy country rock and more pop-oriented music that more closely resembles Lady Gaga’s actual style. Songwriter contributors include Lukas (son of Willie) Nelson, Jason Isbell, Mark Ronson, Diane Warren and DJ White Shadow. It’s no surprise that the soundtrack album has been a smash hit, with my personal favourite (country-rock) tracks contained in the opening half of the movie when the creative relationship between the partners/lovers is at its strongest.

Cooper, all long hair, denims and cowboy boots, plays Jackson Maine, a country-rock star with a serious drinking problem. Whether you are inclined to blame his upbringing, his ear-ringing tinnitus, or the fact that alcoholism is a disease, ultimately it’s his own self-destructive urges that Jackson has to reckon with.

But, initially at least, this is a shadow that’s kept in the background as we are able to share in the delightful, budding romance between Jackson and Ally, a waitress and drag bar singer who keeps her song-writing talents under a bushel.

Jackson, besotted by her and her talent, quickly thrusts her forward, an act of generosity that is also, as we well know, going to become a personal sacrifice. It is during these scenes, which include some superb concert footage, that their relationship – and the film itself – truly take flight.

Thereafter, as Ally’s star begins to rise – a change embodied by her new manager, Rez (Rafi Gavron), who demands costume changes, dance choreography and soulless pop music – Jackson’s begins to fade.

I’m still not sure to what extent Cooper intends to measure Jackson’s downfall by the changes in the music and song presentation that Ally appears to embrace. If, for example, Jackson had been able to overcome his self-destructive urges, would their relationship have been able to overcome the yawning gap in their respective musical philosophies?

At any rate, as Ally gets smarter, savvier and more self-reliant, Jackson begins to resemble a shabby old bear, increasingly left to stew in his alcoholic juices. His downward spiral climaxes in an embarrassing scene at a Grammy’s Award ceremony, a grotesquely over-the-top moment when Cooper’s otherwise nuanced directorial touch deserts him. Jackson’s downward trajectory, it also has to be said, runs a parallel course with the pace of the film, which tends to sag somewhat in its second half.

There’s been lots of Oscar talk, of course. Lady Gaga’s thrillingly spiky performance is remarkable, particularly given that it’s her first movie role. We already know about her dashing stage presence, but it’s in the early scenes, when she’s an ordinary person without benefit of celebrity masks, where she’s most impressive.

Cooper ’s grizzly, sympathetic presence as Jackson, gradually going down like some handsome torpedoed battleship, is also an excellent effort – as is his perceptive direction, surprisingly good singing voice and guitar-playing skills.

There are also fine cameos from Andrew Spice Clay as Ally’s protective dad who believes he could have been Frank Sinatra, Dave Chappelle as Noodles, Jackson’s wise old friend, and Sam Elliott as Jackson’s put-upon brother.

A Star is Born opened in Durban on October 12, 2018. – Patrick Compton