Last week I met up with an old school friend who asked me why he hadn’t seen my review of A Star is Born. I told him that the film had not interested me so I’d not been to see it but he said that he’d loved it and had been very keen to read what I had thought. He also said that he’d been listening to the soundtrack repeatedly. So because I was immensely flattered that he cared about my opinion, and because he is a very dear friend, and because he is a real music aficionado, I promised that the second the film was released for home viewing that I would watch it and write something.
It is with some regret then, that I have to say that I didn’t like it all that much. I’d seen two of the four previous versions of this story, the Judy Garland/James Mason one and the Barbara Streisand/Kris Kristofferson one and my concern that this looked to add very little proved to be the case. Perhaps if I’d been coming to it totally blind I’d have responded to it better. There is big emotional moment at the end of the story, but I could see what was coming from the start so the gut punches didn’t land.
As much as I am in a position to comment, the depiction of destructive alcoholism and addiction did seem authentic. I’ve see the rock star goes off the rails thing for real in the documentaries Amy and Whitney though so this carried none of the same tragedy. I will happily sing the praises of Lady Gaga who was excellent in the film but her trajectory from being a raw and passionate performer to a processed megastar succumbing to the corruptive influence of corporate pop played out better in La La Land. There was something odd about this plot thread in this context too; I think we were supposed to see this as some kind of sell out and one that brought some loss as well as success but she is basically transformed from Adele into Lady Gaga so I’m not sure that’s what was intended. It could be that this is a real life cry for help from young Stefani Germanotta but I doubt it.
Key to this well trodden story of an older singer at the end of his career falling for younger performer on the rise is the chemistry between the leads and I’m afraid I didn’t buy into this with this one either. Both Lady G. and Bradley Cooper performed well but their two stories seemed to run in parallel without truly connecting. At the start I was more interested in her narrative. The scene where she first sings in front of an arena crowd was actually pretty moving. Initially though I wasn’t into what was going on with him. It is hard to do the whole successful older man confidently pursuing a younger more fragile woman thing without it seeming a little creepy and I’m not sure they avoided this trap. Later though I did start to care for him but I had less time for her. I’m sorry Ollie, my old friend but by the end I didn’t really care about either of them.
As far as the music goes I do now have that song Shallow going through my head but actually having a tune with that title sticking with me seems about right. I won’t go as far as to say the film was all surface, it is well written, well directed and well acted, it’s just that I didn’t connect with it very deeply. Ultimately the problem is that this star wasn’t born yesterday, in one form or another she’s been around since 1937. Interestingly the film makes something of the length of the protagonist’s nose but that’s not a problem here so much as the whole concept being a bit long in the tooth.