Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Star Is Born (2018)

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Long giving up on her aspirations as a singer/songwriter, Ally (Lady Gaga) works as a waitress in the morning and sidelines as the intermission act in a drag bar after shift. Drunk and high after a big concert, country superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) finds himself in the same venue, watching Ally perform her own rendition of La Vie en Rose. He spots not only a potential love interest, but also a promising talent that can make it big if given the chance. The two spend the night bar hopping and grocery shopping. When he asks her to sing one of her original compositions at his concert, what follows is a whirlwind romance leading to a rapid ascent to superstardom. As one career skyrockets, the other nosedives. Will fame eventually cause their romance’s downfall?

Lady Gaga has been acting since Just Dance. It’s just that it was always a bigger than life performance for her using her music videos as an outlet. She also relied on a flamboyant persona which overshadowed much of what she had to offer. In the end, there was no clear line between the person and the act. Although potential was evident, the same could be argued for her Emmy-winning American Horror Story performance. In a Star Is Born, a legit actress is born.

The first act gives us a good glimpse of Lady Gaga sans make-up and she is able to establish her character as distinct from her own persona early on. In the second act, all glammed-up Ally with orange hair and shiny costumes comes close to the Lady Gaga that we know, except that by then we can already separate the actress from the role. It also helps that Ally gives off an 80’s disco diva kind of vibe as opposed to Lady Gaga’s avant-garde style.

For now, a Golden Globe nomination and, perhaps, even a win is already assured. The Oscars will be a little tougher, but we can already bet a shoo-in Best Actress nod, and more or less a strong fighting chance for that Best Original Song statuette. As for Cooper, he is not outshined, but perhaps he has a stronger chance in the Best Director category. For a directorial debut, his take on this umpteenth remake is more than satisfying. The film is long at two hours and a half, yet never boring and laced with enough humor and, of course, much heart.

I haven’t seen any of the earlier versions so there is no point of comparison here. However, it seems that the main premise is kept intact, that of the rise of a girl’s career as her husband’s declines. This storyline is not alien to us, we’ve seen other films and read novels dealing with such gender dynamics over and over again, but most of them end the same way. Perhaps where the 2018 remake fails is in choosing not to update its narrative, as if giving you the message that if you are a woman you can’t be successful without sacrificing your relationship. But then again, changing the ending would have been a cop-out. Everyone needs that emotional kick after all.

Even so, Cooper does a great job in shedding light to various themes that are ever relevant in society nowadays. The narrative tackles substance abuse, codependency, mental illness, suicide. These are important issues that have to be discussed, because in doing so lives can be saved. Kudos to the cast and crew for dabbling in such themes yet managing to maintain the humor and giving us such a good soundtrack. This is clearly a passion project for those involved, and that passion simply transcends the screen.

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