New ‘A Star Is Born’ Features Lady Gaga
Actor Bradley Cooper makes feature directing debut with remake
Friday, October 5, 2018
"A Star is Born" (1937, Frederic March and Janey Gaynor)
"A Star is Born" (1954, James Mason and Judy Garland)
"A Star is Born" (1976, Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand)
Bradley Cooper has chosen to remake "A Star is Born" for his feature directorial debut.
"A Star is Born" is something of a Hollywood institution. It seems to get remade for every generation.
It all started in 1937 with an idea William Wellman had about an eager young actress arriving in Hollywood with dreams of stardom and finding her dream through the help of a famous actor on his way down the ladder of fame. That film was written in part by the witty Dorothy Parker, and it had the appeal of giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a movie star — the repackaging of the person, physical makeover, name change and more. Then throw in some heightened melodrama of having the waning star also be alcoholic and voila! You have a hit.
Frederic March was the drunken fading star of Norman Maine and Janet Gaynor was the ingenue that arrives as Ester Blodgett and becomes star Vicki Lester.
In 1954, the story took a musical turn (which it has not been able to shake) as it became a vehicle for Judy Garland and director George Cukor. James Mason got to play the drunkard Norman Maine, and it's his slap in the face to Garland's Vicki Lester that has become such a memorable clip (March did it too, but that earlier film didn't seem to have the same pop culture impact as having "The Wizard of Oz'" Dorothy slapped on the Academy stage). In Cukor's hands, this became more of a "women's picture" and the melodrama got kicked up a notch.
Then, in 1976, Frank Pierson helmed a remake with two popular singers — Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson — in the lead roles, and the story got moved to the music world as opposed to Hollywood. The film tried to inject a little feminism as well as a lot more kitsch.
Now, Bradley Cooper — as both actor and director — has decided to take on the story and give it a more down to earth feel than the previous versions. But he opts to still keep it in the music industry and give the rising star role to pop icon Lady Gaga.
The result is a film that showcases Lady Gaga in a new light, letting her reveal some acting chops and performing songs with a little less flash than she has displayed in her past tours. She and Cooper develop some on-screen chemistry and definitely win the audience over.
Cooper reveals skill as a singer, but his choice of cutting from Lady Gaga's more impressive voice to his crooning at the very end is a mistake. Cooper is more successful as an actor than a director here. It's not that his direction is bad — he makes some good shot selections and for the most part, gives Lady Gaga the spotlight — but the tone of his direction just doesn't fit what "A Star is Born" craves.
The story is a Hollywood trope deeply rooted in the mythology of the entertainment industry, and as such, it cries out for either an insider's glimpse of the industry (like the 1937 film) or some over the top, larger than life style to suck us in.
But the story of one star falling as his protégée rises seems ill-suited to Cooper’s low gloss storytelling. He doesn't make it a truly realistic film about the struggles of a songwriter or how a couple copes with careers that are on alternate paths. So we don't get genuine character development or insight into the industry or kitschy fun.
Without all that ripe melodrama, the characters are kind of annoying and the tropes more tiresome. The performers prove appealing, but the film just sits there like dough that refuses to rise. But seeing this low-key version of the story made me think about how much fun it would be to see the film made by Pedro Almodovar. Now he's someone who understands ripe melodrama, Hollywood tropes, and delivering a women's picture.
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