R, and a pretty well deserved R. Let's start with something that makes it automatically R: nudity. We're in America and nudity means R. There's sex, there's drugs, and the loosest definition of rock n' roll. There's a ton of drinking, some pretty foul language. There's some accidental public urination. That's a first for me, writing that phrase. It will never be a family film, so keep that in mind. It's a natural update of the older films, so keep that mind. R.
DIRECTOR: Bradley Cooper
It's weird. I didn't like the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born. I didn't see the other ones. People be loving that movie. Heck, people be loving the new movie too. When I saw the trailer, I could only see Oscar bait all over this one. I had an opening to see this one at one of the last showings before it goes to the void that is pre-home video. I'm going to be honest, I didn't love it. I know, I'm already ready for all of the vitriol. It might actually be somewhat deserved. I have a pretty strong theory why I didn't love it and it's mostly my fault.
A movie like A Star is Born really rests on whether you love the soundtrack or not. It's a musical. It's a musical where all the music is diegetic. It's like Once. They are all actually singing. The singing is actually central to the entire film. I mean, they are both singers who make their money from singing. But the music in this movie didn't really do much for me. I know that I made people kind of angry when I didn't love The Greatest Showman, but I didn't love the music in that one either. From my perspective, if the music is not central to the film, the rest of the film has to rest on its own merits. The problem I always had with A Star is Born is that the story is pretty trope-y. It always felt like an Afterschool Special about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Now, I'm not saying that the narrative couldn't work. I think it could. I remember being absolutely enthralled by Half Nelson, a thematically similar movie. But this is where things start to fall apart. It's a 2 hr 15 minute movie. When the entire story is watching someone self-destruct without much of a plot otherwise, it climaxes pretty early. The music, which I again don't really love, just acts as a stall in the long run. Character building is smart, but a story like A Star is Born telegraphs everything you need to know in the first minute of the movie. Jack is drunk and popping pills from the first shot in the movie. He's drunk and high through the majority of the relationship. This means that when he escalates, he goes from problematic to unlikable. That's not the dramatic change that I'm really looking for in a character. The best thing you can say about Jack is that sometimes he's a nice drunk and sometimes he's a mean drunk. It's not to say that his character is without sympathy. He's an extremely sympathetic alcoholic. I like the addition of the tinnitus, especially for a musician, is brilliant. It makes sense that he's not simply overwhelmed by the glitz of Los Angeles.
This means that I have to look to Ally exclusively for the story. That makes sense. The story is Ally's story. But we have to lie to ourselves to make that narrative work. Ally meets Jack when he's drunk. The film does a stellar job of establishing that Ally looks at Jack not as a celebrity, but as a man. Honestly, Ally is a little broken too, but I'm going to gloss over that like the film kind of glosses over it too. Ally knows that he's an alcoholic and a drug addict from moment one. I know that this is a realistic situation. I know it happens everyday. But if I'm asked to see if Ally's life is unfair or not, I don't know if I can just accept that. Ally embraces Jack's addiction and seems hurt when that addiction is destructive. Ally, on top of that, kind of has a drinking problem as well. She's not as deep as Jack is, but she causally takes drugs and drinks. I actually am surprised that the film takes the stance that drugs in moderation is kind of okay. I don't know if I'm over-reading into that, but Ally seems to have an unhealthy attitude to alcohol. I mean, they argue with drinks in their hands. Luckily, there is more to Ally that I actually really like. I mean, I'm not huge into this movie, but it isn't abysmal either. Ally's healthy trait is a respect for marriage. It's not a perfect respect for marriage. I don't love how casually the two get married. That's a mistake to begin with, but Ally's devotion to Jack is actually pretty great. She places her work in the right spotlight throughout the film. I'm never going to recommend A Star is Born as a story to show what marriage should be about, but it was nice to see that one element right. But this also leads to questions about the nature of love. Heck, with all this analysis, I guess A Star is Born has more content in it than I thought.
There is a weird power dynamic in terms of the relationship. The initial power dynamic is held by Jack. He changes Ally's life in a moment. It's romantic and jerkish at the same time. But he isn't at all in control. He can control the small bubble around him and that small bubble is on fire. (The metaphor works. Just ignore it.) When Ally comes in, whose life is relatively together, (I said, "relatively".) Ally then holds all the cards. The marriage wasn't between two people who really knew each other. They knew elements of each other. Ally had seen snippets of Jack as the real person he was, but mostly it's a ploy. It's actually confirmed in the film. I didn't know that Sam Elliott was in the film when I first started watching it. I thought it was really weird that Bradley Cooper was doing a Sam Elliott impression. Then Sam Elliot walked in and it's revealed that Cooper has been putting on a mask his entire life. He's not even a real person. Yeah, this movie is a drama. But it's meant to be kind of a romantic drama. A straight up romance. I don't know how romantic this film really is, outside of Ally sticking with Jack through thick and thin. It's kind of unromantic. It seems like a selfish guy who thinks he's being unselfish. There's something really broken about the entire relationship and it's weird that I'm supposed to be rooting for it. Maybe that's A Star is Born's value: it's complex. It's not a relationship that we necessarily want to see. It's ugly and broken and if we knew these people in real life, we might be rooting against them because it is so toxic. They keep remaking this movie for each generation. I don't know why this message needs to be communicated so often, but someone has found a lot of value in this.
It's really weird that I don't love this movie. In terms of Bradley Cooper's involvement, he does the job I want him to do. He and Lady Gaga are amazing. Oh my goodness, Lady Gaga is phenomenal in this. She's so good. Cooper is great too. The performances are absolutely perfect. As a film and just talking about crafting, everything is flawless. There wasn't a moment where something just read false. If I could make a movie as well as this movie is made, I could die happy. As part of that, it is cinematically very impressive. The cinematography services the film as well as can be expected. I could go on with this, but it would just divert from the point. The point is that there's nothing wrong with this film except for the fact that I didn't really like it. The drug / alcohol preachiness doesn't seem enough to prop up the film for me. Again, I didn't love the music. Music movies can really move me. I tend to absolutely adore music movies, especially if its my genre. Country pop doesn't do it for me at all. I'm not saying that this movie shouldn't exist. Please, I'm the last person in the world who should be a music snob. But I've never gotten into it and a lot of this movie is about country pop. I am not even sure if that's the right genre, because I'm not even a music expert. I'm into movies, comics, and television. That's enough of my time and money that takes up my time. So the movie depends on me to love the music because there are extended music moments in the film that I just found myself falling asleep during. For me, this film is music I don't care about and anti-drug preachiness that I got in the first minute performed and presented in the best way possible.
There's other stuff I kind of think about. The "jeans" song seemed like she was selling her soul and that Jack is weirdly right. It's one of those logical fallacies where just because Jack is drunk, doesn't mean he's wrong. He's being a jerk, which makes him the bad guy. But it is weird that she's selling her soul and he can't verbally explain that. But whatever. This is the rare movie that I didn't enjoy that I would totally advocating seeing. It's not my cup of tea, but there's technically not much to complain about here.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.