Saturday 20 October 2018

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born

There's a speech towards the end of A Star Is Born where one character describes music as just twelve notes rearranged in a different fashion. It's meant to be a profound statement on the nature of music, but it's also an ironic metaphor for the film itself. It is a modern retelling of the 1937 film of the same name, itself remade twice more with Judy Garland and Barba Streisand, and whose story has been endlessly repeated in all forms of media.

It is an achingly familiar boy meets girl story. Girl is a struggling performer, working as a waitress and moonlighting as a singer in a drag club. Boy is a drug and alcoholic addicted rockstar whose career is waning. Somehow they fall in love. Girl sleeps with boy and, lo and behold, it's then she becomes famous.

The opening act is creepy as hell, Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine practically stalking Lady Gaga's Ally. He's a drunk sleaze bag who clearly wants to get in her pants, yet we're meant to believe that their meeting is (saccharinely) love at first sight? Weirdly, she actually falls for it. What ensues is a misogynistic story of a man controlling a woman's career - even when her stardom takes off, his final narcissistic act is to make it all about him.

What's more, the plot is a tired juxtaposition of authentic 'real' straight white country-rock music and manufactured pop. It's a mundane criticism of the music industry suffocating artists in the face of plastic consumerism, the same old boring narrative with nothing new to say. And of course the 'evil' music exec is British. Note to the world - pop music can be intelligent, authentic and 'real' too.

Cooper, in his directorial debut, films everything in close up, as if intruding on the minute details of these stars' lives. The handheld camera and washed out visuals give a (low budget) tour documentary feel that mirrors the 'authentic' theme of the film.

What that camera also does is show up every flaw. Every awkward facial expression. Every cringeworthy piece of dialogue. Every weirdly short and badly edited scene. Every unsubtle moment of foreshadowing that gives away the ending within five minutes.

The film is a star vehicle (pun intended) for Lady Gaga, a naturalistic actor who does well with some poor material. We're meant to see her as a strong visionary woman, but she's simply naively swept along in a fairytale - it's impossible to respect her decision to stay with Jackson. Does she really love him, or does she love fame? The film never explores anything like this and is vacuous as a result.

It all comes alive during the music performances, though. With no story for the camera to narrate, it highlights the power of music alone and allows Gaga to do what she does best: sing. As enjoyable as the songs are, though, the soundtrack is torn between that same authentic/pop juxtaposition. If we actually prefer the latter, what does that say about us? Are we not worthy enough for authentic music? And when Gaga herself has made a name for herself in the world of pop, what does that say about her fans?

It all drags on far too long and becomes more about Jackson and Ally's relationship than her birth as a star. Ironically enough, though, these characters are flat stereotypes, their partnership based more on artistic chemistry than anything else. Cooper is credible as the inebriated Jackson who battles over his love for Ally and his need for alcohol, but he's such a loathsome character that it's hard to care over the film's predictably tragic ending.

Above all, the key message of A Star Is Born is about having something to say, about opening yourself up to the world. And yet the film has nothing to say of note - about love, about music, about fame. It is unoriginal, shallow, ga-ga-garbage.


Watch: A Star Is Born is out now.