I’m usually not a fan of remakes, but I make exceptions if the remake brings a fresh perspective to the material. I can also be won over if the remake is really f****** good. Such is the case with “A Star is Born” (2018), which was also made in 1937, 1954 and 1976, and which makes a solid case for its existence in dialog from Sam Elliott’s Bobby: “It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it.”
Director/co-writer/star Bradley Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga bring their personal, from-their-souls perspectives, and their own songs. This marks the first incarnation of “A Star is Born” in the YouTube, social media and short-attention-span era. Those things very much factor into the story – in two equally memorable yet very different stage moments — yet by no means is this a rejection of the previous versions. Indeed, I’m left with the impression that this is old-school Hollywood filmmaking: a love story combined with great songs.
Cooper plays superstar country singer Jack, who meets Gaga’s naturally talented vocalist Ally in a bar and helps guide her to stardom. But it’s a deeper story than that. Despite his timeless good looks, Jack has an air of being on the decline, what with his tinnitus, alcoholism and drug abuse. It doesn’t stop him from doing his job; indeed, Jack absolutely shreds through “Pretty Woman” on guitar during a Roy Orbison tribute show he barely knows he’s at.
Ally is of course the title character, and the film chronicles her rise to popularity, but her talent likewise is on display from the beginning. Along with her vocal skills, she’s a talented songwriter, and Jack helps her realize that. At no point is the audience subjected to Ally struggling to learn how to be a singer. Every piece of music is ready-made for the soundtrack, especially “Shallow,” which is to this film what “This is Me” is to “The Greatest Showman” (2017). Yet it’s not a cheat, because “A Star is Born” convincingly conveys that natural talent does not mean you’re free of problems.
Cooper and Gaga have amazing chemistry. Jack’s smile could make any uggo (which I guess Gaga is by Hollywood standards) think they’re beautiful, and in turn make them love him back. Elliott is … well, he’s Sam Elliott, with that voice that makes you listen up for the next tidbit of grizzled wisdom. Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle also chip in with great performances. (No, that last sentence is not a big typo.)
Most of the lead duo’s problems stem from Jack’s drinking and drug abuse, but there’s also a dash of Ally’s industry struggles. She’s crooning in French in a drag bar – she’s so good that the drag queens make an exception for this one woman at their revue — when Jack meets her. She claims the music industry rejected her because of her big nose, which is ironic because Gaga herself overcame shallow crap like that with confidence, quality songs and an amazing voice.
“A Star is Born” quickly moves on from that thread – which would’ve been more valid in 1976 – when Ally becomes a YouTube sensation thanks to Jack inviting her on stage for a duet. Interestingly, while Ally’s manager, Rez (Rafi Gavron), supplies some of the clichéd villainy basically by being an image expert, the actual events of the film prove him wrong. The masses like Ally, despite the fact that she’s with Jack, and despite her big nose. Heck, maybe because of those things, for all we know.
Rez pushes Ally into recording a single themed around a love interest’s buttocks. But I like that the film doesn’t get too deep into the weeds in regard to one genre being more legitimate than another, or certain song topics being more valid than others. Jack is a country star and Ally is a pop songstress, but that causes no conflict whatsoever in their musical or personal relationships. If Ally pouring her soul out through her music genuinely included songs about butts, Jack would no doubt be supportive.
But ironically, “A Star is Born” isn’t about being a star, really. It’s about writing and singing music inspired by love, and therefore becoming a star as a byproduct. I suspect Cooper’s filmmaking is similarly inspired by the love of this timeless story that’s destined to be retold in a cycle, because he is clearly acting and directing from the heart.