Monday, 12 November 2018

Film Review No. 46 A Star Is Born (15+)

Strong Points:
Great acting from all
Brilliant songs with variety
Confident direction
Character's backstories slowly being unveiled
The 'inevitability but surprise' of the ending
Great concert feels
The dog/cloud/ball of fluff

Weak Points:
The Southern drawl was sometimes impossible to decode
Using real-life award shows for fictional people feels odd
They sort of throw you into the beginning

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
A Star is Born is a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake. By that reasoning, it should feel stale, a tale almost as old as time. And yes, the film doesn't really break any new ground with wildly inventive design or story beats. They don't try to invert genre clichés or give the film a political message. The story itself is strong enough to endure and the film lets it. And that should be celebrated.

The star of this film (besides the giant cloud which is their dog) is Lady Gaga. Now if the film doesn't particularly reinvent the wheel, the opposite can be said about Gaga. Being known outside the film for her jumps into different musical genres and outlandish stage persona's, A Star is Born is just yet another platform for her to show off her range and ability and she has them both in spades. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is palpable, and the amount of energy she emits is great to watch. When Cooper's Jackson starts to slow down in the latter half of the film (a character choice, not an acting choice I might add), Gaga's Ally is there to prop him up and keep the scenes from leaning too heavily into slow drama, with the two bouncing off each other excellently.

For one star to be born, another has to fall. I don't quite know the logistics of that, but it makes good viewing. Bradley Cooper plays this role of the falling singer extraordinarily well. With a look, you can tell the inner workings of his mind. With a film packed with (sometimes very fast) speaking (more on that later), it's a surprise that so much of the film's emotion was also carried just by looks. On the other end, Cooper's singing was also great, changing from routine to passion as his character also changes.

Of course, Bradley Cooper also directs A Star is Born. Now, direction is sometimes difficult to write about, as it is normally the sum of the rest of the parts (cinematography, editing, acting etc.) that are more easily attributable to the success of the film. However, one thing this film has is confidence. Confidence in these parts to play their roles, and that's something I can attribute to the direction. The film lingers when it needs to, doesn't show things which are better left unseen and overall just lets the story be told.

The songs in A Star is Born range from classic country to rock anthems and processed pop. Each one is great to listen to, and while not all of them are instant, recognisable classics, there definitely are a few. Shallow is one of them - a stirring rock/country mix which suits Gaga and Cooper's voices to a T. The songs are also integral in telling the story, which is interesting as they occur both as songs in the story and as storytelling devices themselves. This can lead to certain slight believability and conveniencey issues - songs seem to have foresight at some points, but to be honest, I'm nit-picking here, and probably prefer this than having random songs placed in the film.

If the characters aren't singing, they're speaking. Quite a lot. Some of the dialogue is so quick paced and natural that it surely can't be fully scripted out. This gives the film a great, almost documentary film feel (complimented by some of the cinematography) and really helps the characters to feel fleshed out. One problem with the talking, however, is some of the accents. The southern drawl is prominent, especially with Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliot and sometimes they speak with such laboured tones it is quite difficult to understand them (especially when Jackson is drunk). You can understand the general feel and story of the scene from context and the other actors, but it's a shame we can't always hear every word.

Talking of Sam Elliot, he, and the rest of the supporting cast were also excellent. This was surprising, as the central story is so focused on the two central characters, that you'd think we'd have no time for the others. In actual fact, some, especially Jackson's brother (played by the aforementioned Elliot) and Ally's father (played by Andrew Dice Clay) have quite complex backgrounds, which could have easily been the focus in other films. The film strikes a nice balance between labouring on each character point and leaving points open to ambiguity, making sure each development is valued but not taking away from the main storyline.

The film also likes to drop hints throughout about character's backstories and actual intentions. These never take the form of plot conveniences, dropped in to make the film make sense, but instead are revealed organically and with purpose. They should make for a different viewing experience the second time around.

Finally, I have to give some credit to the cinematography. Sweeping, Southern environments contrast with large concert set pieces, as well as woodland retreats and Grammy award stages. These locations and the way they are filmed can convey a variety of emotions without much in the way of speaking, be it claustrophobia, overindulgence or isolation (among a few happier emotions). There's also an almost music-documentary feel with the camera, at least up until Ally's career starts taking off, with the camera swaying and moving with her journey as she gets dragged to stardom by Jackson.

Conclusion: I went into this film with high expectation and wasn't disappointed. It's a film which stuck with me for days afterwards, not because of it having anything particularly revelatory to say but because of the craft and emotional impact of how it said it. A few Star(s) were Born with this film. My puns were not one of them.

Rating: 88%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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