Tearjerker or turkey? JAN MOIR and SANDRA HOWARD review A Star Is Born
Tearjerker or turkey? A Star Is Born becomes a box office smash but JAN MOIR and SANDRA HOWARD are bitterly divided over whether it really pulls the heart strings – as they clash in the ‘War of the Weepie’
It’s reducing female audiences to tears and is already being tipped for Oscar glory. But is the remake of A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, a romantic tour de force to rival Titanic — or just another schmaltzy Hollywood love-in? Two writers go head to head…
For crying out loud, could everyone please stop crying? On a weekday evening, at a blameless cinema in West London, I am surrounded by bawling women — and more than a few snivelling men.
We have just watched the much-lauded remake of A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the star-crossed lovers; a pair of rock ’n’ roll superstars who glide past each other on the parabola of fame.
In a matter of weeks the film has become a box office smash on both sides of the Atlantic.
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For this remake, the third to follow in the wake of the 1937 original, Bradley Cooper grows a head of greasy chestnut curls and a big ol’ beard
There are already whispers of Oscar glory, of instant classic status, of an unforgettable emotional experience amid the onrush of supposedly magnificent songs.
So why am I sitting here, unmoved and uncaring, after two hours of this five-hankie weepie?
Partly because — whisper it — this Star Is Born often fails to live up to its promise, while the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.
It’s not that it doesn’t have its moments, nor that Bradley and Gaga don’t try their best. He gives it his all as grizzled, alcoholic rocker Jackson Maine, while she brings a fierce, natural charm to the role of Ally, an iron-lunged waitress who thinks everyone in the music industry will hate her nose.
Au contraire, Cinderella! Minutes after they meet, a smitten Jackson already loves everything about her, including her craggy profile.
‘Your nose is beautiful. Can I touch it?’ he growls, his vodka-soused baritone throbbing with ardour, his blazing blue eyes bobbing like apples in a basin of booze.
Soon, she is buying him a puppy and cooking him eggy breakfasts before they spend their days duetting on dreary country rock ballads and taking baths together.
Between slugs of firewater, he urges her to strive for artistic truth in her music. ‘If you don’t dig deep in your soul, you won’t have legs,’ he rumbles. Eh? Try telling that to Kylie Minogue.
The Hollywood story of a talented female ingénue plucked from obscurity by a handsome, but fading, male star, who must then watch from the sidelines as his fame is eclipsed by hers, clearly has a timeless appeal
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This version, directed by Cooper himself, is the fourth incarnation of a film that won’t die.
The Hollywood story of a talented female ingénue plucked from obscurity by a handsome, but fading, male star, who must then watch from the sidelines as his fame is eclipsed by hers, clearly has a timeless appeal.
For this remake, the third to follow in the wake of the 1937 original, Bradley Cooper grows a head of greasy chestnut curls and a big ol’ beard — both of which fail to mask his outrageously good looks.
He not only directs and stars in the film, he co-wrote the script, composed some of the songs and took guitar and singing lessons for 18 months so that he could perform them himself, too.
He probably sewed the sequins onto Gaga’s costumes and helped to apply the dye for the orange hair Ally inexplicably adopts when she becomes famous.
Amid the delicious Brad-o-vision, there is little escape from his interminable dad rock guitar solos, his croaking voice, his blurry alco-gaze.
The film’s soundtrack is set to top the charts in America, but the truth is that without the Hollywood gloss and the lavish marketing budget, Brad would struggle to get a gig with the Muppets house band.
And speaking of artistic truth, Jackson may overindulge in stimulants, but with his great teeth, ripped torso (shower scene alert) and tanned skin, he is the most gorgeous rock ’n’ roll junkie you have ever seen.
My real issue with this film is that there is something illusory about it; we never get a sense of the grand passion that swept the couple away.
Lady Gaga recently appeared on the Ellen talk show in the U.S., where she claimed that A Star Is Born ‘addresses substance abuse and mental health and co-dependency’ issues’
Bradley is so busy taking guitar lessons and singing live and acting drunky-wunky and revelling in his own virtuosity that some of the basics have been overlooked.
Particularly nailing the story to the mast and making us believe in Jackson and Ally and their journey together, building on the narrative purpose of their relationship. Everything happens too fast, too neat, as they cope with the pet peeve of the globally famous, which is coping with the pressure of being globally famous.
Lady Gaga recently appeared on the Ellen talk show in the U.S., where she claimed that A Star Is Born ‘addresses substance abuse and mental health and co-dependency’ issues’. That is also part of the problem. Films such as this can’t just be entertainment any more, they have to have a message plus a grab bag of issues dealt with in a scrupulously non-judgmental, fashionably liberal way.
‘It is not your fault, it is a disease,’ Ally tells Jackson of his addiction, after he drunkenly disgraces himself in public. Is it really? Many psychologists would argue instead that it is a condition over which sufferers have agency.
Yet Cooper the director seems to fear moral rectitude. In his film, Jackson isn’t jealous or cruel, nor bitter and pathetic.
He is sympathetically cast as the product of a broken childhood; a gallant whose alcoholism is given a Disney glow. He is neither victim nor hero, not entirely blameless nor completely culpable. And if he is not good and he is not bad, and if he is not to be pitied nor condemned, then what is he? Little more than a handsome cipher who looks good in his cowboy hat. A Star Is Born leaves no impression. It drifts by in a sea of terrible songs, often just a little bit too pleased with itself.
The 1976 version had its faults, but within an hour Streisand and Kristofferson were in the studio, their hands clasped together on the mic, singing Evergreen — still a spine-tingling moment 40 years later.
There is no such moment and no such song here, only a director who claimed that the point of creating art is to ‘deal with the desperate reality of being alive’ and ‘the wound of being a human being’.
No wonder that amid the forest of weeping willows in Fulham’s Cineworld I am a lonesome pine, unable to gush at this awful gush.
Cooper the director seems to fear moral rectitude. In his film, Jackson isn’t jealous or cruel, nor bitter and pathetic
You’d need a heart of stone not be moved, says SANDRA HOWARD
Queuing up with my husband Michael to buy tickets for the late-night showing of A Star Is Born, I was bemused to see huddles of women shuffling in the opposite direction. And they were all snuffling into hankies.
What on earth was going on? Two hours and 15 minutes later, I understood. I’m not ashamed to admit I had my hankie out, too. Stumbling out into the night, I felt like I’d been through an emotional wringer. The beautiful songs. The extraordinary acting. It was like being battered by a force-nine emotional gale.
You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved to tears by this timeless tale. A beautiful, talented couple fall in love, then find themselves torn apart as her star outshines his.
And timeless it is. This is the fourth version. While I’m a little young to have seen the first in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, I saw No 2 in 1954, with Judy Garland and a spellbinding James Mason, and No 3 in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (right).
Kristofferson was too huge and hairy for me. But a delight of this new version is the delicious Bradley Cooper. In the immortal words of Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, Bradley had me at hello. His lopsided grin, his blue eyes, his gravelly voice. What woman wouldn’t be putty in his hands?
Yet this film is about so much more than Bradley’s good looks. It’s the way he captures the extraordinary talent and the vulnerability of country rocker Jackson Maine.
We watch Jackson fall in love with waitress and wannabe singer Ally, guide her to stardom, then spiral to disaster under the pressure of her fame and his own waning powers.
Jackson’s got a good heart. We know that from the sweet way he interacts with everyone from his fans to the long-suffering driver who drops him off at the club where he meets Ally. He’s just looking for the next drink. Instead, he finds Ally singing La Vie En Rose on her night off and is entranced.
Watching him fall in love with her is, for me, one of the film’s most enchanting moments. I defy any woman not to picture herself in that parking lot with Bradley nursing her bruised knuckles with a bag of frozen peas (did I forget to say there are some very funny moments?).
I found myself hurtling back in time to those first moments of falling in love myself.
As for Lady Gaga, I admit she wasn’t in my frame of vision until now. But she is sensational as Ally Campana. She manages to appear both totally ordinary and absolutely zinging with star quality.
One of the most powerful moments comes when Ally tells Jackson she’s abandoned her dream because she knows she doesn’t have the looks to be a star. Her nose is too big. ‘I’m always told: “You sound great. But you don’t look so great,” ’ she sighs.
That’s when Jackson does what every woman wants her man to do. Covering her nose in kisses, he says it’s the most beautiful thing about her. It may seem corny, but the scene is so tender that my heart lurched.
We’ve all got hang-ups. Mine, as a young model, was that men thought I was an airhead. If a man showed interest in my opinions, I melted.
I love the modern spin on the tale. We learn Jackson’s mother died when he was born. Saddled not just with an elderly, alcoholic father, but also hearing problems, he ended up practically being raised by his elder brother. Now, his talent is ebbing away and he’s suffering with tinnitus. I defy any woman not to long to mend his broken soul.
And, if that lost soul is as beautiful as Bradley, the lure is irresistible.
The movie manages to capture a couple in love without taking us through every cough and spit of ‘the deed’. For me, the fact there isn’t a sex scene makes it more romantic.
One pivotal moment comes after Jackson has shown how much he adores Ally by getting her to share the stage with him for the first time. On a high, they tumble back to his hotel room. It’s all perfect, until Ally emerges from the bathroom to find Jackson comatose on the bed.
His big brother/mentor Bobby (Sam Elliott) is standing over him. ‘You think he drinks a bit much,’ he says. ‘Sweetie, you have no idea.’
No one could say she hasn’t been warned. But while there were plenty of times I wanted to beg Jackson to pull himself together, there wasn’t one when I felt like screaming at Ally to walk away.
For me, that’s what makes the film so successful. I was caught up in their love story, longing for them to live happily ever after with the delightful Charlie (a labradoodle).
It’s easy to pick holes. Would a shambolic drunk maintain that flawless physique? Would Ally really trust such a creepy manager?
But the emotions were so true, the acting so immaculate, I bought it all. The ending, when it comes, is devastating. For me, A Star Is Born is an epic love story up there with weepies like Titanic. It’s romantic, moving and bang up-to-date.
What greater love can a man have than to be prepared to lay down his life for his wife’s career?
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