Remakes and reimaginings of classic tales have been a constant in cinema. One of the most enduring tales is of the singer plucked from obscurity by an alcoholic to win the hearts and minds of the public. This fourth version of A Star is Born is directed by and stars Bradley Cooper with Lady Gaga as the titular star.
The film takes on the skin of the current time as its predecessors have done. It strives to be a new version for this generation, yet, even with cell phones, social media, and depictions of massive music festivals, the film fails to let its star break through this endless cycle of the male gaze.
This film, in all its iterations, is not about the female lead. It's about the tortured male who has to watch as his life is superseded by a more talented woman. The male likes to be the patron, the savior, the maker of idols and his poor ego can't take the hit when his creation actually takes flight and stays aloft. This version of A Star is Born continues that tradition precisely and misses at what this generation of filmgoers wants out of a film with a three dimensional female lead. We want the reality of female empowerment.
The film fails heavily not in its adherence to the same plot, but that there is only one woman in the principle cast. One. Women have nearly been written out of this world, relegated to backup dancers, stage managers, and screaming fans.
In the back story for both of the main characters, their mothers are dead. Neither has sisters or female friends. Gaga's character, Ally, has a male best friend and confidant. Yes, he's gay, or at least a part of the LGBTQ community, but even in that sequence, Ally's first performance for Cooper's Jack, she's the only woman in a drag club full of drag queens, but not a drag king or a female audience member in sight.
This story couldn't have had Jack have a sister instead of a brother? It couldn't have had Jack confide and run off to his childhood sweetheart rather than Dave Chappelle's nebulous, unfleshed out childhood acquaintance/best friend character? The story just didn't have room for a woman asking to and successfully managing Ally's career?
The version of A Star is Born we're given could have been so much more than a facsimile of what came before, detracting from its predictability. Yet, the film keeps the beats of the previous incarnations. Ally is saddled with Jack, this anchor of a man, as he swims at full speed toward rock bottom. The film speeds through these beats so quickly and so throughly that despite the runtime, I felt like I had whiplash because of the pacing. The film left me with no time to process the emotions of it all.
Several scenes are cut just as they reach an emotional climax, unwilling to linger, more eager to move to the next thing in sequence. The film gives so little room to land or process the emotions we're supposed to be feeling as we watch even as the beats are clearly in place during one of many clipped falling outs, or the several snipped redemptions. Cooper as director seems to have been too busy with getting each tree into his film he missed the whole forest of emotions and time around him.
Despite the plot holes, the illogic of its characters, the lack of roles for women, and the strange acting choice of Cooper to have his character mumbling and stumbling through every line, which made me wonder if he was actually drunk, I found myself enjoying it. The music, the frenetic cinematography of the concert scenes in montage, the always incredible Sam Elliott and the force and power of Lady Gaga's incredible voice and her deft skills as an actor are all superior pieces of filmmaking.
Anyone who enjoys spectacle, or at least finds comfort in the familiar, will likely enjoy this movie, but if you're looking for some more powerful statement that shakes up the established order, maybe skip this one, or save it for the heart of Oscar season where its likely to be competitive in many categories.