2018 Star is Born is Dreck

A Star is Born (2018)
Directed by Bradley Cooper
Warner Brothers, 136 minutes, R (nudity, language, drugs, drinking)

Lady Gaga sing sings. Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah. My one line review of this third remake is:  A Star is Born, but this viewer is bored. This is easily the worst of the four versions of this film, and it has my vote for one of the fattest turkeys of 2018. I'm glad I didn't fall prey to the Oscar hype and see this one in the cinema. I lasted just 90 minutes into the DVD before bailing. I knew how it would end because, after all, it's A Star is Born and I've seen the other three films (made in 1937, 1954, and 1976).

Here's the problem. In previous versions in which Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbara Streisand starred, each could sing. Lady Gaga is a great singer too, but the other three could also act and Gaga cannot. Gaga plays Ally Campano and is discovered singing Edith Piaf in a drag bar. She is, apparently, the resident straight chick and only one who doesn't require a molded silicon breastform. We know this because we see her naked several times. Insofar as I can determine, nudity is the only new wrinkle Gaga brings to a movie that is now officially as overdone as a Lady Gaga pop song.

For those who just beamed down to this planet, Bradley Cooper's role is to play a drunken, world-weary musical idol: Jackson Maine, a country megastar. He discovers Ally (Gaga) in the aforementioned drag bar, is wowed by her voice, smitten by her down-to-earth demeanor, and astounded by her songwriting ability. How he can draw the last conclusion from the few bars she tunelessly vocalizes in a convenience store parking lot is up for grabs, as is any explanation of how she gets to take her gay friend Ramon (Anthony Ramos) with her on the private plane "Jack" sends to fly her to his gig in Houston. Equally mysterious is what useful role Andrew Dice Clay plays in this film as Ally's father. (In my opinion, Clay has always been a waste of planetary space.)

You know the rest. Jack's star will dim and Ally's will rise. A producer named Rez (Rafi Gavron) takes charge of Ally and repackages her as a pop tart and it's on to a Saturday Night Live gig and three Grammy nominations. Gaga is, of course, in her milieu and she proves she really can sing pop. Duh! What a stretch. This might have been a wise course of action, though, as she is truly awful in non-singing roles. You can see her smile and moon as if she is following commands from the side of the set. This is the extent of her acting range. Jack hates Ally's new direction, but he is sinking both professionally and personally, so queue a marriage troubled from the start, public embarrassment, and a tragic ending. To reiterate, it is A Star is Born, so the tragic ending is chiseled in concrete.

To the degree there is anything redeeming about this film, it's Cooper. He can sing and the clips of him lost in melodic rapture on the stage are slick, but engrossing. He's good enough that I partially forgive him for ripping off Jeff Bridges' Bad Blake mannerisms in Crazy Heart (2009), with a small nod to Robert Duval in Tender Mercies (1983). He does, however, spend too much time acting like a boozed, coked puppy dog waiting for Ally to get him out of the shelter. Moreover, the relationship between he and his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) is underwritten and seems as if it's tacked on either to get Elliott into the film or to introduce a dysfunctional family theme to explain why Jack is an addictive personality. Queue some psych 101 on that one.

I could go on, but I'd recommend instead that you see the 1976 Streisand version. It's also over the top and slogs through some cheap sentimentality—did I mention it's a remake of A Star is Born?–but you will immediately see the difference between a star who can dominate the screen (Streisand) and one who can't (Gaga). I'll leave it to others to argue which of the two is a better singer because the true answer is Judy Garland. But for sure no one will confuse Gaga's screen chops with the Stanislavski Method.

Can we just put Star is Born remakes to bed? Please. Enough. The 2018 Star is Born is surely not the brightest thing in the cinematic sky.

Rob Weir

Postscript: I don't deny that Lady Gaga has a great voice. She did a nice pop standard collaboration with crooner Tony Bennett. This does not mean, however, that she can sing anything. There is a difference between hitting the notes and making an audience believe in a song. At the end of the day, she's mostly a pop star. As for covering Edith Piaf, please don't.

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