Do you need this? Really? With unanimity amongst the public and critics that A Star is Born is wonderful, do you you really need me to tell you what I think?
How about if I tell you that it’s dogsh*t?
Okay, so, I found myself at a bit of a loose end on Saturday afternoon, so decided I’d go to the cinema. I couldn’t put myself through what I expect to be a deep clean of the Queen story, as told by Brian May - though I will - so I went for a different music-centric film.
I didn’t know much about ASIB, but from catching bits and bobs of star and director Bradley Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga’s television interviews, I had concluded that it told the story of Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand’s IRL relationship. Within a few minutes of the film starting, it was clear that wasn’t the case, and I later found out that it was a loose remake of Kristofferson and Streisand’s 1970s remake of a 1937 film, which explained why the title seemed so familiar. As far as I’m now aware, Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand had no IRL relationship.
Things started well, with a live concert opening, and Cooper’s character - immediately painted as a southern American, heavy-drinking and drug-using rock star of somewhat advancing years - banging out a rousing riff from the Cochise-alike original song, Black Eyes. Just FYI, a mention of black eyes often pops up in descriptions of the Native American warrior who inspired the Audioslave track.
From there, things move fast. Very fast. Lady Gaga - Ally - works in hospitality in some capacity, as well as singing in a drag bar, where Cooper’s Jackson Maine finds her, and charms her, despite being at least ten to fifteen years her senior, displaying addiction red flags, and not respecting her personal space whatsoever.
Honestly, I was peering through my fingers, and it was excruciating. This film was apparently several years in the making, and the world we live in now is very different to the one that was the backdrop to the stars’ first days on set. Expect uncomfortable viewing early on, and the suggestion that men can be as creepy as they like if they’re famous, dahling.
Ever so quickly, we go from the first meeting - a messy night out - to, with Maine’s help, Ally becoming a global music sensation, who actually brings to my mind Geordie lass Cheryl Currentsurname, oddly enough. Of course, there’s a thoroughly dislikable svengali character in the Simon Cowell mould, played by the Orlando Bloom the budget allowed for, who is either ruthlessly and pragmatically wise or a complete morality bypass. This doesn’t get explored, though it’d be nice to see a spin-off film focus on his introspective demise, perhaps in the same way that it’d’ve been nice to find out more about Avatar’s potentially complex a*sehole-in-chief, Parker Selfridge.
But ASIB gives little of that. Nope, I felt I was merely watching the storyboard come to life. I guess that’s what all films are, but not with great big contrast barriers between each scene. There’s no segueing between one gross caricaturisation of human behaviour and the next. No embroidery on the railroading plot. Two scenes of violence, for example, are delivered out of the blue and with little attempt at justification or censure.
There is a little thrown in for the liberals, in that a gaslighting-lite passage is treated as far more harmful than a horrendously humiliating under-the-influence performance transmitted to millions around the world. It’s true, alcoholism and drug addiction are indeed “disease[s]” - speech-marks to denote a quote rather than a comment - but the symptoms are seldom so treated as water off a duck’s back and with sympathy by loved ones. Ally’s clearly an angel. Or perhaps Maine’s admittedly badass influence on a classic rock song cover moments earlier earned him a pass.
We assume Ally is hurt so by Maine’s words because she claims she so nearly didn’t make it in music due to her nose. This is relatively implausible, as she’s played by the hugely successful Lady Gaga (same nose), who even suffered rumours concerning another unsightly protrusion lower down. (I don’t rule out the possibility of the nose references being a creditable allusion to that long-running and unedifying episode.)
All in all, we have, as I say, a storyboard translated to screen with little nuance or flow added. What would have been, and should have been, a troubling scene late on - arguably not even a necessary turn for the film to take - is delivered with such an introduction (!) that it’s rendered ridiculous.
I mentioned I hadn’t seen any of the versions of ASIB that preceded this one, and for all I know it may be artistically faithful to both, but as an example of cinema which intends to capture my empathy, I’m provided with little in the way of likeability from the characters - certainly not enough to become emotionally engaged.
That said, and I guess whatever the opposite of faint praise is, I’m about to deliver it, I felt similarly - regarding the unduly fast pace and heavy-handed characterisation - about Million Dollar Baby. So read into that what you will.
The good things? Black Eyes and, particularly, Shallow are masterpieces. The latter, even so lacking in lyrics in the second half, may well be the song of the twentyteens, and it deserves all the Grammys and Oscars that will inevitably be attributed. As a telling of the film’s plot, it does a better job than the production itself.
Oh, and there’s a scene very early on which features some fabric draped across a table lamp that somehow, freakishly suggests the 1988 West Germany Home shirt - the Greatest Football Shirt Ever - in an imaginative alternative colourway. For that alone, Bradley, you’ve delivered a directorial success.
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