Scene Selections: ‘A Star Is Born’
Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, a popular film soundtrack, social media craze and two earlier films to compare it to, Bradley Cooper’s newest take on the classic “A Star Is Born” always intended to stir up some controversy. The Observer’s Scene section reviews films, music and films with music in them. Did you expect us not to comment on it?
The first act is incredibly strong
By Nick Ottone, Scene Writer
A screaming crowd, pounding drums and blaring speakers. This is how “A Star is Born” begins — disorienting and dizzying, high on its own chutzpah. Then, suddenly, a quiet, still limousine, Jackson Maine — played by Bradley Cooper — stumbles into a discarded drag bar. An enchanting rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” performed by Lady Gaga’s Ally, followed by a flirtatious, backstage introduction.
Beginning brash and loud and then quieting to barely a whisper, the first act of “A Star is Born” falls into a charmingly naturalistic vein. Conversations stumble, overlap, diverge and interject, as Jackson and Ally meander from a bar to a grocery store parking lot and then home. The film quickly sets up its central romance and introduces its titular star. And it climaxes with what might be the single best scene of the year: a monumental showcase performance of “Shallow.” The film gathers all its crowd-pleasing power for this moment, and it absolutely kills.
The first act is so naturalistic that its flaws, including Ally’s thin characterization and Jackson’s addiction arc, are easy to overlook. Even the weaker second and third acts are buoyed by the first act’s charm and seeming effortlessness, holding the film aloft due to likable characters and their rock-solid chemistry.
Lady Gaga can do it all
By Martin Kennedy, Scene Writer
I saw “A Star is Born” with my cousin, Nicole, who has been a big fan of Lady Gaga since her “Poker Face” fame. She knows every lyric to every song, and quite possibly every fact about Lady Gaga that is possible to know. When it comes to reviewing a Lady Gaga performance, I turn to Nicole’s expertise. And as Nicole walked out of the movie theatre speechless, I knew that Lady Gaga shattered every expectation she had. Her role in “A Star is Born” brings her to a new level of fame. Lady Gaga portrayed a rising star with a complex personal life phenomenally while singing with perfect and stunning vocals. Few people can convey as much emotion singing “I’ll Never Love Again” as Lady Gaga does in the film. She can even speak French! Classique Gaga! Whether it’s upbeat or slow, emotional or fun, serious or funny; Lady Gaga is a superhuman who can turn any performance into a grand spectacle.
You made my cousin proud. Thank you, Lady Gaga.
Alliterated thoughts on the trailer from a few light years away
By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer
As nebulous globules of gaseous mashed potatoes mesh together in the far reaches of space, specifying points in the sky where heavy hydrogen heat machines might manipulate mass into “White Light / White Heat,” Bradley Cooper mechanizes mass-appealing heat maps (himself, Lady Gaga) via the internet (Youtube, Twitter) in order to draw everyone’s attention to tiny, woefully unlikely points (himself, Bradley Cooper) presently presenting glitters from the past (many stars that we see have long since vanished, thanks to distance and time) as the hubs around which the invisible, potentially wonderful stuff hidden between (most of the mass in the universe, according to some scientist’s somewhere, belongs to dark matter) circulates. But, we can’t have our meat (sad ruminations on things like “White Light / White Heat”) without potatoes — starchy, mushy goodness (so long as The Blight remains at bay) nutritious enough to sustain a healthy dose of salted flavoring indefinitely. Cooper and Gaga’s buttery voices garnish the starch well enough, I suppose. Perhaps I should leave my meat (darkness, mystery, pretense) aside for tonight and join @russelfalcon for a heaping plate of Cooper and mash.
Bradley Cooper can sing?
By Cameron Sumner, Scene Writer
When I first heard that the likes of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga would come together in a movie filled with music, it surprised me. Sure, Lady Gaga is an everywoman. The fact that she has big screen skills didn’t come as too much of a shocker. However, Bradley Cooper, the star of many a chick flick, never came across to me as a singer, let alone a good one. Cooper’s raw, husky tone and Gaga’s perfect, rounded one combine beautifully. Like many students, I am almost constantly listening to music. I love it, can’t live without it. So, when a film successfully intertwines stars, songs and a story, I am on board. “A Star Is Born” does just that. Unlike many musical-esque movies, the music in the film is mostly exhibited through select scenes at concerts or recording studios. This makes its existence actually seem quite normal. No one randomly breaks out into random song or choreographed dance. The music bolsters the plot through impactful lyrics that relate to the characters’ complicated lives and relationships, making it a movie almost equally about song and plot.
Without the emotional response that the soundtrack evokes, the movie would be noticeably weaker.
Can this movie work in 2018?
By Jacob Winningham, Scene Writer
The effectiveness of the prior tellings of “A Star Is Born” stems from the shifting power dynamic between the titular wunderkind and whatever fading icon he takes her under his wing. As Garland and Streisand’s characters begin to outpace their mentors in fame and prosperity, their respective films milk the subsequent jealousy that creeps into their relationships for every drop of melodrama possible. This story only works when the male character — Jackson Maine in the most recent version — is allowed to be the antagonist. Yet in the most recent adaptation, Bradley Cooper’s character Maine resists this urge to villainize at almost every turn. But, at the same time, the movie’s most poignant scene is also the only one where he allows Maine’s insecurities to manifest themselves in his bullying and demeaning of Gaga’s Ally. Perhaps you can’t make this movie in 2018. The screenplay goes out of its way to assert that Maine’s alcoholism isn’t his fault — and in doing so, prevents him from being the ‘bad’ guy. If that’s the case, then hopefully this is the last time somebody tries telling this story. To quote Jackson Maine himself, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”
Another two-dimensional woman
By Sara Schlecht, Scene Writer
Ally might be the “star” referred to in the film’s title, but she certainly isn’t granted the characterization that the male lead is. In a film that is seemingly supposed to be about her, Ally is never given the development or backstory that brings the character of Jackson Maine to life. She remains flat as he continues to become more complex. From self-deprecating comments Ally makes about her appearance early on to the changes she makes at the request of her manager, it’s clear that this is a film in which men are in charge. The male gaze dictates some of her most memorable actions and lines, transforming her, once heart-filled, music into something that lacks any real sense of sincerity. Having been written and directed by Bradley Cooper, the man who also plays the male lead, it is, sadly, understandable that a woman’s part could be flattened in the screenplay. But that doesn’t make it any less problematic.