Monday, November 12th, 2018
A Star Is Born (from director Bradley Cooper)

A STAR IS BORN, from director Bradley Cooper, is a very good adaptation of the trailer that played before every single movie I saw in a theater for the last three months. I saw that trailer so many times I would try to act it out and could sing the two songs (one with correct lyrics, even). I would get just those song fragments stuck in my head for days. So it’s exciting to discover that they have second verses.

I don’t know if it’s as good as an adaptation of the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, or the 1954 one starring Judy Garland and James Mason, or the 1976 one starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, or the 1998 made-for-cable one starring Brandy and Casper Van Dien, because I haven’t seen any of them and made up the last one. I have to assume it’s closest to the ’76 because actor Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) definitely seems to be channeling Kristofferson’s rugged country poet vibe. I even contemplated whether or not he should be allowed to play Whistler if they ever do a new BLADE. Then I realized that really the voice he’s doing is Sam Elliott, so I was delighted when the actual Sam Elliott (ROAD HOUSE) showed up, playing his older brother/road manager. I wondered if that was awkward between the two actors, and then I found a Good Morning America interview where Elliott says Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) warned him “this is gonna be a little weird” before playing him a tape of the voice he was working on. “And it was a little weird.”

What if Elliott hadn’t been available? If they ended up casting, like, Don Johnson or Willem Dafoe or somebody, would they have to imitate Sam Elliott too?

More importantly, did Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) drop the voice while directing? I doubt he did. I bet he discussed camera angles with cinematographer Matthew Libatique (PI, VENOM) in that voice. I bet it was real hard to turn off when he went home, too. And when the movie was done. I bet he’s still using it as we speak. For years it will pop up by accent when he says certain phrases or when he drinks gin.

Most unexpected person to pop up in the movie: Eddie Griffin (URBAN JUSTICE) in a cameo. If I hadn’t seen the trailer: Dave Chappelle (CON AIR).

Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) plays Jackson Maine, veteran rock star without an obvious model as far as I can tell. Kind of country, complete with hat, but also a rockin Eddie Vedder type. He’s on a giant outdoor stadium/constantly photographed in public/full time personal limo driver/fly girlfriend in on a private jet level of success, and also he’s unhappy and drinks too much and takes pills.

He meets the star that is born kinda randomly. He’s in town and wants a drink, has his driver (Greg Grunberg, who I have read was on a show called “Felicity,” not sure if it’s a streaming thing or TV or what) stop at the first bar he spots. If he was a homophobe none of this would’ve happened, because he would’ve left when he realized it was a drag bar. Instead he sees one of the club’s former servers turned bio-queen, Ally (Lady Gaga, MACHETE KILLS) sing “Ma Vie en Rose,” and he’s blown away.

(META NOTE: Cooper wasn’t familiar with Gaga, but saw her sing that same song at a charity event, had a similar reaction, and was hellbent to get her in the movie)

Ally has another shitty job and then goes home and feeds her dad (Andrew Dice Clay, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE) and the other drivers in his limo business. She’s accepted that this is her life – music industry people have told her her nose is incompatible with stardom – and at first resists even hanging around Mr. Rock Star.

The heart of the movie is this long stretch of craziness where she works, meets Jackson, gets invited to fly out to his next show, goes back to work, decides to quit and take up the offer, ends up unexpectedly singing on stage with him, and falling into fame and love at the same time. A bunch of momentous can’t-believe-this-is-happening events with some mundane normal life in between, and no time for sleep.

If you’re as familiar with that trailer as me you know that she comes to watch his show and he puts her on the spot to perform the unfinished song she sang for him in a drugstore parking lot the night before. In my opinion Gaga is really fuckin good in this movie, and I keep thinking about how convincingly she captures Ally’s stomach-crushing fear, cowering in the back as he starts the song without her, then steeling herself to bite the bullet and go out there. Like making herself jump out of a plane. And even as she’s clearly nailing it she keeps looking like she can’t believe this is happening and might freak out. Here is Gaga, veteran stadium performer, making me believe she’s brave to sing in front of a crowd, while the dude that played Face in the movie of THE A-TEAM stands back giving her his humble support.

It’s an old fashioned, arguably dated idea of talent and getting discovered and becoming famous and all that shit, but it’s got a ROCKY or 8 MILE kind of underdog exhilaration to it. This movie is corny as shit and I was on board the whole time.

I’m not someone who listens to Lady Gaga, though I’ve noticed her seeming to be a more gifted musician than many superstars of her era, and I respect her as a pop weirdo with crazy costumes and stuff, especially since she showed up at the MTV Awards or something with Kermit the Frog as her date. But as Ally I really fell for her, a cool working class girl, a good singer, a fun person. I understood why she fell for this guy, noticed her qualms about his drinking, worried about her giving in to him too much as he transparently became jealous of her success separate of him, forgave her when she trusted a douchey manager (Rafi Gavron, THE LAND) and when her hit single was wack. I was moved by her nurturing and sad that it was required of her. I think Ally is hot and also I believe that people didn’t like her nose. And I like the intimacy of Jackson caressing it and professing his love of it. They seem so genuinely into each other that it’s seductive. I fell for this love story even as their relationship seems doomed to failure.

Having since seen a half hour interview about the movie with Gaga on Stephen Colbert, I think it would be hard to dismiss her natural performance with the usual “oh, she’s just playing herself” criticisms. I could barely recognize her as the person from the movie in the way she carries herself or in the makeup she prefers to wear. Ally’s resistance to artificiality (feeling phony if she changes her hair color or wears fancy clothes) is the extreme opposite of Gaga, who seems to only feel comfortable when transformed into a larger than life character.

As far as fictional hit songs go, these are impressive. Gaga and Cooper wrote most of them, often collaborating with Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson. (That reminds me, when Elliott’s character says he’s on tour with Willie, is he talking about Willie Nelson, or Will Smith?) Diane Warren and Mark Ronson also helped out. My favorite one was written by Jason Isbell, who I looked up in he was in that band Drive-By Truckers. That’s a thing I have heard of.

It helps that they perform the songs live, apparently at Gaga’s insistence, because she hates to see lip synching in movies. They had to play in character in front of real crowds, including Coachella. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real play as Jackson’s band. I have to admit to genuinely liking the two most prominent songs, “Maybe It’s Time” and “Shallow.” And they do a good job of re-using them enough to show they’re signature songs while also having a bunch of others to play at their shows.

Apparently when Cooper went to Gaga’s house to convince her to do the movie he had her sing Creedence’s “Midnight Special” with him and totally won her over with his voice, even though she didn’t know the song and had to find the sheet music online to play it. This tells me two things:

1) Gaga has not seen TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE recently

2) “Midnight Special” must’ve been his go-to karaoke jam for years

The original A STAR IS BORN, I’ve read, has the star winning an Oscar. In this version Ally wins the Grammy for Best New Artist. So we can assume she’ll be a vital artist for many years to come, like Evanescence or Arrested Development.

Okay, to be fair, I like Arrested Development, and there have been plenty of more long-lasting artists who have won it. (Or at least their music has lasted – like Lauryn Hill’s or Amy Winehouse’s.) But I think it was smart to have her winning that specific award, because it’s a way to have her at the top of her profession without her legacy being guaranteed if she doesn’t follow through with Jackson’s advice to be “honest” in her music.

Best New Artist Grammy Trivia #1: When Lady Gaga was considered ineligible for the award in 2010 for having had a single nominated for best dance recording in 2008 it was so controversial they had to change the rules the next year.

Best New Artist Grammy Trivia #2: the next year’s winner, Esperanza Spalding, was Clint Eastwood’s choice to star in the movie after Beyonce dropped out.

You may or may not know that Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) is Clint’s directing padawan. He had turned down co-starring with Beyonce for Clint’s version, thinking he wasn’t old enough. It got delayed due to Beyonce’s pregnancy, and then she dropped out. Then he did AMERICAN SNIPER with Clint, and was so hands-on as a co-producer that there were rumors he was ghost-directing for the aging icon. (Clint has directed three more movies since, so fuck your rumors). By that time Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) had some wear and tear on his face and decided he was ready to do A STAR IS BORN, but Clint was over it, so director Bradley Cooper was born.

I’m not sure how much Clint influenced his directing, but they do share a classical, straight forward simplicity. It’s more about these two actors, their chemistry and their music than anything else. And it’s the little touches that make it rise above the formula it glories in. There’s a big moment where Jackson makes an emotional confession to his brother, and it’s a line that you can easily imagine in everything from a powerhouse Oscar clip to a generic TV melodrama. But the inarticulate way he brings up the topic and stumbles around it before he can blurt out what he wants to say gives it an authenticity that completely absorbs any screenwriter-trying-to-spell-it-out turbulence.

The script by Eric Roth (THE POSTMAN) and Cooper (actor, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) & Will Fetters (THE LUCKY ONE) gives a very gentle elbow to romantic fantasies of the pure and damaged artist. Jackson is laid back and confident in his authenticity, and passes his wise lessons about musical honesty to Ally, but as soon as he realizes she doesn’t need him for her career anymore he starts acting like a baby. Ironically she does still need him as a husband and he’s unable to give that to her. We can see the glamour of the Hard Drinking Artist Who Had a Tough Life and Expresses It Through His Art. We can also see that inspiring her to write very emotional songs is a poor substitute for being around to enjoy life with her.

These human failings don’t make his fate any less moving. During his (SPOILER) death scene there’s an extra little touch to kick your heart in the balls (SPOILER: the fuckin dog waiting faithfully outside the garage!). And the finale uses another little trick, jumping back to a moment that was skipped over before, to powerful effect. Hats off to the screenwriters or to editor Jay Cassidy (FRIGHT NIGHT PART II, BRAINSCAN, BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER) or whoever came up with that.

I liked this movie more than I can probly justify. I have a hunch it will get some Oscar nominations and earn widespread resentment as a symbol for vanilla mainstream crap. Some will accuse me of just trying to hype it up in hopes its success will inspire a theatrical re-release and critical re-evaluation of THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. And I mean yes. But still.

I liked it. God damn it I liked A STAR IS BORN.

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Jibber-jabber (17 Responses)

  1. I’m glad you liked A STAR IS BORN, Vern. I liked it too. It’s a big showbiz melodrama, but it works really well. I think it depends on two things – the songs had to be credible as real, popular songs, and the love story between the two of them had to be believable. And they were, and it was.

    I was a fan of Lady Gaga before going to see the movie, which it sounds like you weren’t. But I liked more than just her performance. I remember thinking when the very first song started up – Jackson’s set closer before he goes looking for a bar – that okay, I can definitely believe this is a song those fans are excited he’s playing. I love the fact that Cooper, or at least Jackson Maine, is apparently a nose guy. And you nailed a couple of the best little moments in the movie for me, too: (SPOILERS) Jackson’s inept confession to his brother, and even better Sam Elliott’s scramble to drive off while holding back tears. And yeah, the fucking dog tore me up.

    I thought the first half was a lot stronger than the second. But yeah, I really liked it.

  2. Oh shiiiiit, didn’t know that this movie features an ALIAS reunion! (Although I’m not sure if Cooper and Grunberg ever shared some scenes together in that show.)

    I’ve never been a Lady Gaga fan. For me, she represents everything that is wrong with the music biz. There is this really talented (as I have to admit) artist, who is making cheesy dancepop songs and got her career only through cheap publicity gimmicks, like crazy outfits or “shocking” videos. (Not that I’m fully against crazy outfits and other gimmicks, but you have to earn the right to use them. Daft Punk didn’t turn into robots until their 2nd album and even Madonna didn’t start out with her sex goddess persona.)

    And while I really don’t care for this movie, it’s nice to hear that she actually does a great job in this. As much as “the pop sensation who is so awesome because she dresses like a bunch of wrestling sitcom parodies on stage” makes me roll my eyes, I approve this (as far as I can tell) fully ungimmicky showcase of her talent.

  3. I actually really like the ‘76 version and there’s one thing in particular that I think works better there than in this version. Beware, we got some incoming


    I think Jackson/John Norman’s death works better in the ‘76 version. He doesn’t explicitly kill himself, he just cruises off into the sunset. I think the ambiguity over whether he really wanted to die or whether it was an accident or what plays a little more tragically to me than an out-and-out suicide scene. Maybe that’s just my own personal history with suicide speaking, I dunno.

    ***end spoilers***

  4. Felicity was a TV show that starred Keri Russell and ran between 1999-2002 on the WB where she after graduating high school impulsively decided to follow her high school crush to New York instead of going to pre-Med at Stanford like she planned because he’d written in her yearbook that he’d wished he’d gotten to know her better in school.

    She ends up joining Impossible Mission Force and turning traitor in fine IMF tradition after faking her own death and being recruited by the Russians as a sleeper agent to bring down America.

    Also, time travel. I am not making that up about how Felicity ended.

  5. Whoa Jackson Maine as Whistler?! That’s an incredible idea but how in the hell would you recast Wesley Snipes? Aside from obviously Michael Jai White. Let’s hope if they ever break out a new version of that character, it’s in a time when Wesley’s appropriately aged out of the role.

  6. Also Vern since you’ve got me thinking of imaginary movie scenarios, that thing you tweeted about an Elm Street reboot was killer.

  7. The lady friend and I were underwhelmed(her) and irritated(me) by the love story in this. Fuckin alcoholics and their abuse of people they profess to love. Yeah yeah I know Bradley Meat Train was damaged goods and Lady Big Nose had self-image issues (not helped by her father who kindly reminded her how ugly she was, Father-Of-The-Year right there), but after he pissed his pants at the grammys and smeared cake on her face (as a sign of affection which the movie used as a cute little symbol of their love by repeating it in a later scene, way to condone passive abuse Bradley), I was out. The sobs and tears from multiple women in my screening when the lights went up told me that I probly missed something though. Maybe I’m the arsehole.

    Cool music though. Looking forward to the 5th remake of A STAR IS BORN next decade starring Justin Bieber (with Sam Elliot voice) and Ariana Grande.


  9. I was listening to WGN Radio in Chicago and they were talking about this movie. Some lady comes on and in the middle of their conversation casually mentions the ending and I had never seen a Star is Born movie before so it was a giant spoiler and it made me laugh how casually she dropped it.

    Also, you know what else Stars are located? In the sky best seen at NIGHT COMES FOR US…


    The performances are good, but in its last few minutes I questioned, “What is the point of this?” SHIT HAPPENS is an applicable way of coping with some parts of life, but can be the basis of a lot of shallow art trying to sell fatalism as profundity.

    I also think the movie is caught in this weird netherworld between a Hollywood crowdpleaser and a realist drama, where the former keeps crushing the latter. Like, if anything makes the central romance interesting it’s that they’re two random damaged people in the world who happen to be brought together, but that felt skimped over to me. And did they have to make her SNL sellout pop song SO bad? Gaga is extremely connected in this world and should be able to parody contemporary pop without agreeing to what sounds like a Fergie B-side from 2006.

    Anyway, I’m glad that some of you liked the film. I didn’t hate tit, but just shrugged at the end and stopped thinking about it.

  11. So it’s this year’s Les Miz?

    I highly recommend the Streisand version.

  12. …or the 1998 made-for-cable one starring Brandy and Casper Van Dien

    What the…? I have to see thi-

    …and made up the last one

    Oh. you son of a…

  13. I don’t know, this one didn’t work for me. But its release reminded me to celebrate the 10th anniversary of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, so that’s good enough.

  14. CJ, I disagree with your take on Lady Gaga. Look at the state bubblegum pop was in before she came along, the Britney era if you will, where these pop acts were the epitome of manufactured bullshit from the songs they sung to their costumes, choreography, etc.

    I don’t care for Lady Gaga’s songs but she writes them herself, she performs them with conviction, and she has made the imagery surrounding her career an exercise in artistic self-expression and individuality rather than the vapid sex appeal of her forbears. And look at all the freaks that have come in her wake: Grimes, FKA Twigs, Janelle, Karin Dreijer Andersson..she’s definitely had a positive impact on the pop world. An authentic artist whose place in music deserves respect.

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