Curse You, Bradley Cooper
Fuck Bradley Cooper. Fuck his big beautiful face and his big beautiful talent. Fuck that guy for being so handsome, for being a pretty damn good actor, and for deciding—sure, why not?—to direct a movie. And fuck him for making not just a good movie, but a great one. The cranky voice of Rocket Raccoon is a fucking phenomenon.
“It’s the same story over and over,” says Cooper’s washed-up rocker Jackson Maine in a movie moment of self-referential clarity aimed at all the skeptics in the audience. True enough, but with this fourth remake of a film that originally came out 86 years ago under the title What Price Hollywood? and seems to re-emerge, cicada-like, every few decades, two stars are actually born: Lady Gaga the actor and Cooper the auteur.
Who’da thunk this hoary IP would still have some juice left in it? The basic tragic premise of A Star is Born has worked so well for almost a century because it taps deeply into masculine insecurities of inadequacy and irrelevance, especially as it relates to the fairer sex. It’s like a self-pitying apologia for paternalism (and an apt zeitgeist flick for male anxiety in this #MeToo era). Once men realize that the women they want to control don’t actually need their help at all, it destroys them.
A STAR IS BORN ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott
Running time: 135 min.
Except, in Cooper’s version, you really feel the connection between these star-crossed lovers. Ally (Lady Gaga) might be a frustrated singer-songwriter who’s given up on her dreams, and Jackson might be a shaggy self-destructive lush on the downside of his career, but the two of them have such staggering chemistry together that their union feels inevitable. They shelter each other, inspire each other, and almost seem to normalize each other.
Their meet-cute first night together is full of sensual moments that linger like perfume: the way Jackson peels off Ally’s fake eyebrow in a drag club dressing room, or traces her nose while the Allman Brothers wail “Whipping Post,” or ices her swollen hand with a bag of supermarket peas—even as he’s sweating booze from all his pores. It’s both electric and tragic, hope glimmering through a dark cloud of doom.
The relationship never really feels uplifting as much as it does cathartic. There’s an anger to these characters, an intense sadness that they each feel about their own lives, that really makes their connection—and their dissolution—so convincing. They’re tender with physical strokes until they tenderize with emotional mallets. (Caught in a bad romance, indeed.)
Cooper and his co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters also have the wisdom enough to cast a wider net in their storytelling, adding family to the mix. Ally’s limo-driving father with the Sinatra pipes (raunchy comic Andrew Dice Clay, and he’s terrific) is a keen reminder of dreams deferred. And Sam Elliott plays Jackson’s (much) older sibling-turned-
surrogate-father who manages his volatile baby bro and does his best to serve as a reality check. “You even stole my voice,” he sneers in his signature gravelly croak, delightfully calling bullshit on Cooper’s decision to give Jackson a weathered basso profundo. “But you had nothing to say,” he bites back, twisting the knife on his own kin. The expanded world enriches Ally’s and Jackson’s hermetic bubble, pointing to the fault lines that crack wide open when their love affair really gets seismic.
Alcoholism is the specter haunting all the movie versions of A Star is Born, the one constant in a story recycled through different generations, whether it’s the studio-system early iterations or the music-industry later ones. And the sloppy acceptance-speech sabotage at the Oscars that became the foul-mouthed rant at the Grammys becomes downright mortifying in Cooper’s version, when Maine gives new meaning to the phrase “piss-drunk” during Ally’s Best New Artist award.
It’s doubly painful because these two really live through their songs. What the 1976 version got right was to turn A Star is Born into a sort-of musical, so the emotional elements became more raw; but Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson were really just doing her own thing. There was very little creative collaboration between the two lovers (maybe in the scene with the Oscar-winning “Evergreen,” where Kristofferson is kissing her knuckles while she belts out her ballad—but that sure ain’t a duet). For Ally and Jackson, though, songwriting is their bond. It’s why their romance develops, and how their fates collide. It’s their ode and their elegy.
“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die,” sings Maine in a pity-party moment. Screw that! Just recycle smartly. Cooper saw that A Star is Born was long in the tooth but had good bones—so he turned a worn-out TCM staple into a hot-blooded, vitally relevant picture. Everything old is new again. You could even say it’s been re-born.