|'A Star is Born': Yet Again|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
04:21PM / Thursday, October 11, 2018
With four "A Star is Born" iterations in the books and probably many more to come — expect one every ensuing generation — the universality of the tale is a given. Until some bold director makes a woman the established star, and the up-and-comer a male, the formula remains the same. He's a major star flirting with the decadence that comes of success, with booze and/or substance abuse the tell-tale sign of his looming, downward spiral. She's the talented, innocent and grateful ingénue he discovers.
I remember how surprised I was in my youth when I found there was an earlier version of another, oft-remade movie of which I was particularly enamored. I was firmly dedicated to the 1940 permutation of "The Front Page," titled "His Girl Friday" and starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. But one night on TV's "The Late Show," when I should have been asleep so I'd be awake to perchance resurrect my failing grammar school career the next day, they showed the 1931 screen version of the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play. I railed: "heresy, impostor!"
I've since calmed down, and while the 1940 version remains my favorite, the education that came of said rude awakening was a stepping stone to appreciating the process. Hence, whether perusing the '31 Adolphe Menjou-Pat O'Brien version or the '74 Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau offering, my assumedly educated palate can now pretentiously spout the comparative remake rap: "Hmm. See, here they did this, and there they did that." Suffice it to note, I brought all this baggage to my screening of the latest "A Star is Born," starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
Point of disclosure: The 1937 version has not been displaced as my favorite. Starring the great Fredric March as Norman Maine, the movie star cruising for a bruising, and sweetly diminutive Janet Gaynor as Esther Victoria Blodgett aka Vicki Lester, presented in early Technicolor and populated with endearing character actors like Andy Devine, it is Old Hollywood at its sentimental best.
However, putting my prejudicial pride of ownership in abeyance for the sake of fairness, there's no discounting the superb job Lady Gaga and Cooper do in issue No. 4.
Doing an American version of the Kenneth Branagh thing, Cooper produces, directs, co-writes and stars in the contemporary dramatization of the syndrome that Tinseltown feels compelled to update every 30 or so years. And for all intents and purposes the bittersweet story, an addendum to "An American Tragedy," captures the mood and temper of the present day. It's the human condition less some of the rules, with a stark warning about the unappeasable nature of the hungry heart.
The appurtenances, filigree and colloquialisms of the era in which the evolving love story takes place might interest millennials and older Gen Z's more than how the singing lovebirds navigate the challenging wiles of stardom. It's strictly out of the supermarket tabs. Whereas the novitiate's enchantment with the wealth, opulence and adoration that comes with breaking through the glass ceiling has a vicarious appeal.
And for us idealists, the veteran troubadour's glee in seeing his prodigy climb the ladder of success offers a hopeful note about the possibilities of redemption.
But here's the problem. I enjoyed the getting-to-know-you exposition well enough and watched with interest how Cooper inserted the necessary facets of the narrative. However, because I know this saga, as will most moviegoers over 35, I couldn't dismiss what was in the offing if the screenplay stayed relatively faithful to the source material. So, once there were inklings of trouble in paradise, I became antsy and could only hope that the director, at the risk of committing cinema sacrilege, would change things up just to please my romantic optimism.
All the same, my appreciation of Lady Gaga and Cooper's fine performances couldn't be diminished by the plot fatalism that wrapped itself around my silver lining aspirations. Treated to what might be explained as a synergistic exchange of talent, we are surprised by how well Cooper, a thespian of the first order, alternately croons and belts them out as the crossover country star Jackson Maine, while Lady Gaga, in turn, convinces us she is Ally, the starry-eyed novitiate whose ship has arrived. Still, I wished I weren't watching my figure, so I could visit the concession stand to buy some Whoppers and therefore miss some of what I feared was coming.
In total, I was more absorbed by the mechanics than by the yarn itself, finding enjoyment not so much in the twists, turns, and divulgences, but rather in how the filmmaker proficiently shaped the script to be viable in the current sociology. All of which reminded me that I was at work instead of being wafted away to that magical place where "A Star is Born."
"A Star is Born," rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Bradley Cooper and stars Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott. Running time: 136 minutes