Synopsis: Boozy singer on the downswing discovers a singer with great pipes– Lady Gaga!
Ready for a Big Hollywood Love Story? Something kind of gritty and kind of sweet? And definitely featuring two attractive and charismatic lovers?
A Star is Born is a Big Hollywood Love Story, sharing kinship with 2016’s La La Land. Both films light up the silver screen with luminous stars, a tale of striving and surviving in the wild world of entertainment, and California shining in all its iconic splendor.
Compared to A Star is Born, La La Land was able to ease into theaters with a relatively unknown director (Damien Chazelle) and two established actors (Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling) playing charming unknowns. A Star is Born was freighted with big expectations. It would invite comparisons to past iterations — James Mason & Judy Garland’s 1954 version and 1976’s Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson vehicle. And it would standout as actor Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. We know he can act; could he direct? Lady Gaga would play the neophyte star. She can sing, but could she carry her weight as the star of an A list film?
First off, this is my kind of popcorn movie– big stars in a behind-the-scenes of entertainment show. Brave Bradley Cooper sets aside vanity to embody an alcoholic. His performance is full of boozy stumbling, glassy eyed stares and slurred speech. He shows us the blitzed guy who thinks he’s doing fine. His character Jackson Maine is a 40-ish country rock singer-guitarist, his hits behind him, but still able to make a living touring.
One night after a show, the lonely drunkard has his driver stop off at a local bar. Turns out it’s a drag bar and a woman, Ally, is performing. Goosebumps when Lady Gaga/Ally performs La Vie en Rose. Jackson is immediately smitten and talks her up after her number. He looks like a rough around the edges Bradley Cooper, but Jackson comes off as a bit of a creeper. He rambles on about her incredible voice and beauty. She’s flattered but cautious; beware the drunk praising your nose. Ally tells him that she works waitressing because she can’t get a record deal. The dealmakers have told her she’s not attractive enough. No! Jackson is incredulous! They end up spending the night talking and when Ally sings a snippet of a song she’s writing, Jackson practically keels over from amazement. In the morning light, he bids her goodbye, dropping her off at the house she shares with her dad.
Ok, Ally/Gaga does have an incredible voice and she’s a nice looking woman, but Jackson must be forgetting his whole adult life and career in music. Has he never seen an attractive woman before? Never encountered a woman who can really sing and –gasp– write her own songs? Maybe it’s the alcohol clouding his memory. Anyway, he is gaga over Gaga 😉
Before you know it, Ally is touring with Jackson as a backup singer, sharing her gorgeous voice with the world. Jackson remains in an alcoholic fog, but it is a cheery fog because he and Gaga/Ally are falling in love. He manages to get onstage with the help of his
manager-brother, Bobby, played with his usual world weary cowboy affect by Sam Elliot. All hail his magnificent silver-bristled moustache. Jackson eschews his bro’s facial hair example –it’s a lot to live up to — but does have the same low-timbred, western states twang.
Audiences are going crazy for Jackson and Ally. And on the nights that Jackson isn’t too wasted, he manages to have sex with Ally. I imagine she doesn’t dally with foreplay because she knows her boo is likely to pass out at any moment. It isn’t long before Ally’s percolating stardom is ready to be grabbed onto by record execs and managers who come calling. Jackson even gets a little jealous when she starts performing solo. And he is no longer a merry drunk because she’s gone so often. We can tell he’s unhappy because now instead of grinning and guzzling, he looks mighty unhappy as he uses his cowboy boot heel to smash big rocks of drugs into snortable granules.
Ally rushes to Jackson, devoted and concerned, whenever she can find a moment away from performing her truly horrible new pop songs. Fortunately, Ally and Jackson have POC friends who are happy to drop everything to ooh & aah over how incredibly talented and special their privileged friends are. Ally’s friend, Ramon, from her days waiting tables is her biggest fan and looks on with concern when Jackson is extra-wrecked. At one point, Jackson ends up at Dave Chappelle’s place — I mean, “Noodles'” place. Noodles ( I hope Dave C. insisted on that perf name) invokes the legend of Jackson’s unparalleled talent, but fears that this country rock man-god has hit rock bottom.
How can love survive Jackson’s addictions and Ally’s burgeoning career commitments? I felt badly for the troubles that Ally and Jackson were having; I wanted Jackson to stop drinking and destroying himself. I wanted Ally to sing ‘Bad Romance.’ (Sigh… Ally & Jackson made me think of Sebastian and Mia in La La Land and how they really loved each other but how consuming stardom is.) But director Bradley and actor Gaga really needed the turmoil to show us the full spectrum of their gifts. So let’s raise a glass of non-alcoholic whiskey to them.
PS Extra points to Bradley C. for casting his dog in A Star is Born. No acting required for their joyous backyard romp!
PPS I looked up non-alcoholic whiskey and, Good Lord, it exists!