Review – Some Will Go Gaga for This (“A Star Is Born”)

This movie has been remade no less than FOUR times! Starting in 1932 (about the movie biz) and called What Price Hollywood?, it changed titles in 1937, to A Star is Born. It switched from a movie-biz plot to a singer plot with Judy Garland & James Mason in 1954 and then remade with Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson in 1976.

Debuting director Bradley Cooper and first-time actor Lady Gaga (née Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) are the stars in this latest remake, which still deals with the singing aspect, but borrows heavily (even steals) on plot-points from both the 1954 & 1976 versions. Just like the 1976 film, we are introduced to rock ‘n’ roll superstar Jackson Maine (Cooper), a habitual alcoholic & addict who shreds like Eddie Van Halen and looks like Tom Petty. After a concert, he stumbles into a bar and (aping the ’76 film again), sees Ally (Gaga), an innocent and wide-eyed young girl who has a powerful voice and strong songwriting skills.

Well, faster than you say, “Where’s my meat dress?”, the two hit it off and Jackson brings her to his concert, pulling her up on stage to belt out one of her own songs. If you’ve seen any of the previous four films, you know what happens next: Ally’s life changes over-night, thanks to Rez (Ravi Gavron), a super music producer, who builds her up to be the latest, greatest, recording sensation. Ally’s dad (Andrew Dice Clay) is overjoyed, as is Ramon (Anthony Ramos), her BFF. But Jackson, newly married to Ally, isn’t too keen on the idea, as his increasing tinnitus, drinking, and drug abuse are taking their toll on him.

As Ally’s fame rises, Jackson’s career plummets, ostracizing Bobby, (Sam Elliot) his older brother and manager (they even talk the same!). The Grammy Awards hit a low point in their lives and Jackson vows to clean up his act, but will he ever be able to stage a come-back again? You can clearly see where the story is going, since this movie’s plot has been done to death already, so screenwriters Cooper, Eric Roth (The Insider), and Will Fetters (The Lucky One) decided to leave it alone, adding a few variations. It’s like getting a really nice embroidered blanket for Christmas; it’s great that’s it’s embroidered and all, but it’s still just a blanket.

The real story lies in three elements: Lady Gaga’s acting debut, Bradley Cooper’s directing debut, and the soundtrack. Take away Gaga’s outrageous dresses, wigs & make-up, and that crazy stage persona and you have one beautiful looking girl who can seriously act. Her singing is passionate and flawless and I really hope to see more of her in film. Cooper, on the other hand is, without a doubt, a damn fine actor, but given the reins of a Panaflex for the first time and he’s like a kid in a cinematic camera store. Cooper really stretches his photographic wings here, experimenting with every style in the book.

He also shot the film in micro-movies; many shots were done as a sole expression or thought (much like a YouTube vine) in five-ten second bursts, then pieced together. This must’ve been an editor’s nightmare! Very unique and very odd; I can’t tell if I liked it or found it annoying. Then there’s the awesome music which, I’m guessing, is going to win some kind of award, as it’s both moving and powerful. In any case, this fifth incarnation of A Star Is Born is worth the ticket if only to see Cooper and Gaga strut their stuff on stage and sing. The rest is all fluff & stuff.

A Star Is Born (1976)

Of all the many remakes, this one not only had a number one album, but an Academy Award winning song (Evergreen) by Barbra Streisand as well. Although critically panned, it did have some pretty cool performances by the cast that gave this movie a certain ‘lovable trainwreck’ quality.
Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll! That’s the hard-core lifestyle of rocker John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), whose hell-raising days are catching up to him at each sell-out concert he does… when he remembers WHY he’s there. His manager (Gary Busey) doesn’t care just as long as he entertains the crowd, but John’s band has had it with his boozing, drug abuse, and lackadaisical attitude on stage. Drunk one night, John stumbles into a local bar and sees a female trio called The Oreo’s; their lead singer being Esther Hoffman (Streisand), an Afro-haired bombshell whose booming, beautiful voice and no-nonsense attitude intrigues him.
But life for John is about to come crashing down. His record sales are down, his band has quit and formed their own band, and a local DJ (M.G. Kelly) is out to crucify the singer if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. Meanwhile Esther, while recording a ridiculously silly cat food commercial, meets up with John again and a thought occurs: get her to appear with him at a benefit concert. At first she’s dreadfully shy at the concert, but soon blows the crowd away with her singing and charisma. Yeah, that does it! The offers start pouring in for record deals, contracts, appearances, and she has John to thank.

Naturally, she falls hard for the big lug and, after they marry, she gradually gets him off the booze and pills, but John can’t let go of his fading glory days of fame. The more popular she becomes, the more in obscurity he falls into… until one day. Even with FIVE screenwriters contributing didn’t help the fact that this movie was plagued with problems, the chief being Streisand herself. Known for being egocentric, demanding, controlling, AND a royal pain in the ass, she frequently clashed with director/co-writer Frank Pierson, who vowed never to work with her again, as did her co-star, Kristofferson. She even demanded re-writes and directed some scenes herself. Yikes!

When it’s not being hokey, the movie does have it’s charm and the killer soundtrack helps quite a bit, especially with the concert performances of Streisand and Kristofferson, both of whom know how to sell a song. The real problem lies in their chemistry, which is sadly lacking. You can clearly see they don’t like each other (in real life) and it’s taking quite alot for them to ACT like they do. Just stick around for the ‘music video’ portions of the movie and you’ll do just fine.       

Tasty trivia: That opening concert shot? It’s real! A live concert was given in Arizona with Streisand, Kristofferson, Peter Frampton and Santana. Streisand originally wanted Elvis Presley as John Norman Howard, but Elvis demanded top billing over Streisand AND more money!