"Far from the shallow," Gaga, Cooper and Libatique hit the right notes on this electrifying, gritty and down-to-earth journey to the stars
Orson Welles, needs no introduction, directs the greatest dramatic epic ever, "Citizen Kane." Alex Garland, the novelist and screenwriter of "28 Days Later," directs one of the most superb psychological sci-fi thrillers in recent memory, "Ex Machina." Kevin Costner, the iconic actor who starred in "The Untouchables," directs the 1990 epic Western "Dances with Wolves." Charlie Kaufman, the writer of "Being John Malkovich," directs one of the most 'fucked-up' postmodern masterpieces, "Synecdoche, New York." Lately, world-shaking filmmakers as Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Paul Dano, Dan Trachtenberg, Chad Stahelski, Bo Burnham, Robert Eggers or Ari Aster shocked the film world by premiering "Following," "Lady Bird, ""Get Out," "Wildlife," "10 Cloverfield Lane," "John Wick," "Eighth Grade," "The VVitch: A New-England Folktale" and "Hereditary," respectively.
But what do these names and feature films have in common? They're straightforwardly some of the most iconic, original and flawless directorial debuts from screenwriters, short film directors, stunt performers, actors, producers, composers and authors. The list keeps growing at an exponential rate with unique and not-so-unique first-time directors on both the small and big screen.
Bradley Cooper, a Philadelphia native, was popularly — and tragically — known as Phil from the "Hangover" trilogy, for voicing Rocket Raccoon in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and lending his voice in Bad Robot's "10 Cloverfield Lane" a few months ago; plus, he's been nominated for three Academy Awards for his acting in "American Sniper," "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Today and after a long odyssey, Cooper's first outing as director, screenwriter and singer is a stellar debut, specifically, the fourth iteration of the 1937 Janet Gaynor and Fredric March-starred romantic film of the same name.
Being honest, it's my duty to acknowledge I haven't seen any of the previous three movies, my knowledge about them does not go beyond what I have had the pleasure of extracting from think pieces, interviews and critics' reviews. It's also my duty to acknowledge, due to the nature of this new movie, it's not a remake that gets inventiveness as greatest grip; Cooper's "A Star Is Born" does not conquer by raw innovation, but the suitability of the new takes and shifts that make it shines purposely with a force never seen before in the spate of remakes.
Will Fetters, Eric Roth y Cooper, based on William Wellman' and Robert Carson's story, have updated the material with such commitment and passion that not only is the most poignant big-studio star-crossed-romances since "La La Land" or the most powerful feature film on music since "Whiplash" came out, both of them directed by Damien Chazelle, but is one of the most wide-ranging, honest-to-goodness and resounding inspections on addiction, vice, aspiration, celebrity, entertainment industry and sacrifice in Hollywood. The script creates its own leitmotifs with respect, improves some others, dragging them into a new stylized "world" looking to set up a perfectly paced melodrama with overwhelming rhythm, with chiaroscuros making this complex romance drama as painfully as inspiring; A dreamy-yet-grounded portrait of dreams and showbiz, one star is born, whereas another is flaming out.
Characters are slightly shifted and/or refined likewise, not only more relatable and true to the running entertainment scene, but to today's audiences. Jackson Maine, inspired by American musician, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Eddie Vedder, is a country rocker star widely known for his musical talent, his old songs and his messy "private" life. Dipsomaniac, downhearted and unhappy — unless a guitar is present, — Jackson begins to catch the sense of dreams when he finds another person to make them come true; a way out that changes worlds, but not fates. Although his final decision could be debated forever, screenwriters are respectful to the original ending, making some fitting, enriching changes along the way, drawing a more holistic design for a man who feels his most beautiful song is gone.
Ally, the star of this show, is portrayed as a "non-standard" resigned singer and songwriter who works as a waitress by day and goes on-stage in a downtown drag bar one night per week. Édith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" is the song she sets free her astounding vocal range and represents an idealized life where success is a sure thing with. In the right place at the right time, she gets a genie and three wishes: attainment, love, wisdom. Ally meteorically becomes what she always wanted to be, achieves to be where she always dreamed of, spends her days who she never imagined with; sa vie in rose, but the industry is knocking on her door. At that moment, the film starts producing slyly cold commentaries on how it turns artists into products mercilessly, the manipulation and creation of an "idyllic" public persona quite detached from reality; this is not a dream factory, but we all keep going. As for specific character writing, unlike Jackson, Ally has to take the reins of her evolution, unfolding a straightforward dramatic arch that undeniably evokes the magical, harshly real ending for Mia and Sebastian in "La La Land."
Stefani Germanotta — winking at "Machete Kills" no hard feelings involved— makes her film acting debut as the star she's always been. After taking a tiny part in a couple of productions under her stage name and being a Golden Globe winner for her terrific work in FX's Ryan Murphy-created anthology ("Hotel"), Lady Gaga shines with a role that, unequivocally linked to her personal and professional life, gives her a golden opportunity to fulfill, in the biggest possible way, one more dream. She's electrifying performing her concert scenes, restrained and self-effacing at times, fiercefuly outstanding most of the time. There's a moment of sparkling, boundless power at the beginning of the second act: Gaga bringing out her experienced vocal level at the peak of "Shallow" is out of this world; the sensation running through my entire body every time I remember that magical moment is beyond words, a rush of anger and fear that, even in its equally overwhelming single trailer, speaks volumes about what the character and the actress are undergoing. It would be ridiculous to review her phenomenal scope as a singer keeping in mind such avant-garde, generational legacy; that being said, it's surprising the way Gaga owns the most personal scenes, clearly rooted in her soul, looking into her inner self, going through her fears, keeping distance from meat-dresses and martian-looks. Gaga's range packs a dramatic punch as sincere as priceless, sensitive and deeply real, clean in execution; her award-worthy performance turns detractors off, a powerhouse showcase as painful as life itself, a depiction of her biggest dream.
Cooper's Jackson Maine is no question the second best role of his entire career. The four-time Oscar nominee endows with diffuse dramatic depth and relatable characterization a character that would have been another boring archetype in the wrong hands. The actor-turned-director is also staggering everyone by pulling his singing stuff off with a heavy, credible country rock voice that never pales against Gaga's. Likewise, he undoubtedly gets into his character's rough life-of-excess final moments naturally, with such a personal commitment that will surely gain him nominations in both performance and direction categories among the upcoming awards season.
Sam Elliott, America's favorite cowboy, delivers one of the peak supporting-male performances of 2018 as well. Bobby, Maine's older brother and manager at once, breaks his life in two and that process, embellished by a terrifying Elliott, is a tasteful delight enhanced by emotional bumps, jolts and simple-yet-meaningful lines. By any standard, the actor, scoring a time record on screen, has on his side a couple of nods, all because of his astonishing interpretative force tested, of course, in that (in)famous "car scene."
In big-budget films, their intervention is unreasonably unusual, for that reason, the involvement of drag queens in acting is a step forward (Willam Belli or Shangela Laquifa); LGBTIQ characters, although not leading much of the story, are an important and interesting add in a film that tries to get rid of the larger-than-life guidelines. Credit must be given to Anthony Ramos, a Brooklyn native, who plays Ally's workmate/BFF and stands out throughout the first act.
Set in a supposed present-day entertainment world, celebrity cameos as Halsey and Alec Baldwin are guarantees of veracity for this 2018 remake, allowing worldwide audiences to relate briskly with the story's atmosphere.
In a feature film crowded with accolades and kudos, Matthew Libatique is the one who must take much of the praise. Skipping from L.A. to California, Libatique encapsulates a vibe of melancholy and naturalness via pink sunsets, the illusion of natural lighting suffuses pictures of a dreamy spirit and the atmosphere of an annihilating stoicism and fluency. Director Darren Aronofsky's longtime collaborator converges lighting, control of form and vision with glorious prowess, the performance scenes shot at the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals and Saturday Night Live are organic and honest because of the fantastic camerawork, focusing entirely on the actors and impregnating intimacy and deprivation into Jackson and Ally's relationship.
Above the romance and drama, "A Star Is Born" is not a musical, is a film about music, therefore, this feature corresponds to and pushes forward the plot. The soundtrack isn't as catchy as "La La Land"'s iconic and fadeless compositions; however, Lady Gaga' and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow" is a shoo-in for Best Original Song, a global phenomenon, a hit aimed by a meaningful, intense live performance amid the film. "A Star Is Born" has enjoyed a rapturous reception by tracks like "Always Remember Us This Way," "Maybe It's Time and "Look What I Found.
"A Star Is Born" by Bradley Cooper goes beyond a drama piece of loss and pleasure, fame and failure, hate and love, self-acceptance and selfishness; a fable of showbiz creatures designed in recording studios directed unflinchingly by Cooper and stylized by Libatique's keen visual eye, a meditation on Gaga's career, who delivers one of the performances of the year, shakes the music and film world up at the same time and leaves the viewer a bittersweet feeling, mirroring the true nature of dreaming.
This generation's "A Star Is Born" is a painful breakdown of the toxic excesses from success, a vérité-ish take on the false "perfection" of an artist's public persona, a grounded and raw commentary as for how music and entertainment industry works, a love letter to love itself, a downright unwavering and beautiful depiction of the little compatibility between dreams and relationships, a theatrical melodrama and, in the end, a vehicle of spiritual magnificence and emotional depth on what dreaming really involves: some stars are born as others just flame out.
This title contains:
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking