By Jim Tortolano
If there’s such a thing as a perfect Hollywood movie for the 21st century – and there is not – “A Star Is Born” comes close. It combines reflections on art, relationships between men and women, family dynamics, the dangers of addiction, fashion and more with a kick-asterisk soundtrack and an actual story.
This “Star,” the fourth iteration of a tale that’s given us Judy Garland, Janet Gaynor and Barbara Streisand, has its brightest lead in Lady Gaga, who goes from stage-shy piano plinker to international star and sex symbol in two hours and 15 minutes.
If you’re over 40, you may not know who Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is, but she happens to be a woman who is arguably the leading female pop music star in the world, eclipsing Madonna, Katy Perry and even Beyonce.
It turns out she can act, too. She plays Ally, a T-shirt and blue jeans kind of lady who is singing in a gay/drag bar when country rock star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper, who also directed, produced and co-wrote the script) stumbles in, looking for one more drink after a concert.
Her version of “La Vie En Rose” captivates him, and a romance quickly ensues. He encourages her and helps her overcome her self-image problems – she thinks her nose is too big – and helps her launch her own music career.
Maine is loving and supportive, but wounded. Not only does he drink far too much – a habit he supplements with pills – but his hearing is going and he begins to resent Ally’s rocket-ship ride to stardom. It’s not just professional jealousy. He is dismayed to see her go from a sincere, unadorned acoustic artist into a strangely costumed pop goddess with dancing ensembles and arguably tawdry performance values.
That, in some ways, is the reverse of Gaga’s actual arc. She came to prominence for her unique – some would say eccentric – public persona and her position as the diva of throbbing technopop. Now she does duets with Tony Bennett.
There’s a side plot in which Jackson is constantly sparring with his brother Bobby (Sam Elliot), not always in a nice way. Rafi Gavron does an impressive turn as the slimy and successful promoter who changes Ally, and maybe not for the better.
Pleasant surprises include appearances by Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay.
But the primary focus here is on Jackson/Bradley and Ally/Gaga. They come across as authentic and their chemistry feels real, at least within Hollywood conventions. They can also both sing, although Cooper is nowhere near being in Gaga’s league.
The conclusion feels a bit pat, but until then this adroit combination of acting, music and the spirit of the times is just about spot-on. Oh, and go buy the soundtrack. It’s going to be a big a hit as the movie.
“A Star is Born” is rated R for drug and alcohol use, language, sexual situations, brief nudity and brief violence.
Categories: Arts & Leisure