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A Star is Born - Film Review

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I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
You'll go GaGa over the fourth version of A Star is Born
Source: Roadshow Films

Despite what many may believe, remakes are nothing new to Hollywood. From the earliest days of Hollywood, studios were remaking films that hadn't even aged yet. If a remake of The Maltese Falcon was released today, some would say 'Hollywood has run out of ideas' and call it a cheap knock-off of a classic. Of course, The Maltese Falcon that everyone knows (the brilliant 1941 Humphrey Bogart movie) was the third time the film had been made in the space of just ten years. Remaking a film is fine, as long as you have something new to say. The dustbin of movie history is full of cheap remakes that added nothing to the original.

The new version of A Star is Born is the fourth time the film has been made, having been first made in 1937, followed by the 1954 remake (which is sometimes credited as the original version), and the 1976 version. I must confess that I have not seen any of the previous versions, but I will probably be in the majority of filmgoers who are under the age of 40.

Bradley Cooper directs for the first time and has achieved an exceptional debut performance. In addition to directing, he also stars as Jackson Maine, a fading music star who is losing a lifelong battle with alcoholism. Cooper is exceptional throughout the film, bringing some personal life experience to the role as well as an unexpected singing ability (all the vocals were done live in the film). Cooper had to learn to play guitar for the film and is very convincing throughout (except for a few electric guitar solos). He looks like a musician, rather than an actor trying to pretend to play an instrument to a pre-recorded track, much like the actors in Almost Famous (2000) who really felt like a real band.

Pop star Lady GaGa plays Ally and was an unexpected choice. Cooper had to really fight with studio Warner Brothers to get her approved for the role. The role, however, suited Lady GaGa perfectly and her acting skills were exceptional. She creates great chemistry with Cooper and their live performances are brilliantly executed. GaGa is not new to acting, having appeared in several films before, such as Machete Kills (2013), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) and the TV show American Horror Story. However, this was her first lead role in a feature film. She is very convincing as an actress and not just a 'singer trying her hand at acting.' She will not be joining the long line of starlets who took up acting, only to find themselves at the Razzie awards picking up many 'worst actress' awards. She may even get nominated for an award at the other end of the spectrum.

The film manages to switch between realistic life on the road scenes and big scale concert venues (many of which were real, as the scenes were filmed in between acts at actual music events), as well as presenting tough home lives and characters that feel like real people. Cooper is able to realistically show Maine's descent into alcoholism whilst keeping him a likeable character whose charm is present whenever he is sober, although at times his deep country drawl makes him sound like he's attended the Tom Hardy school of acting with inaudible mumblings. Ally is portrayed as very tough as she supports Maine, but also chases her dreams as her star takes flight, just as his is starting to fall. The musical numbers are very good (except for some of Ally's more pop influenced numbers)and standard of musicianship is very high. The support cast provide interesting secondary characters, most notably, Sam Elliott. Many musicians provide cameos along the way as well.

For me, the only weakness of the film was in the storyline of Ally. The movie gives a lot of time to discussions around 'having a voice' and 'having something to say' whilst Ally also worries about being turned into something she's not. However, this plot line isn't really explored in any depth, as Ally is suddenly singing songs about 'why do you look so good in those jeans?' and becoming an overly produced modern pop music product, yet little is made of this. Jackson does question this at one stage, however, much of that is swept away quickly and forgotten about. This to me felt like it could have been a much bigger part of the story, especially as this is a modern retelling of a very old story.

The film also does at times, as all films about music do, over-state the importance of the music. Sometimes movies treat popular music as though its curing cancer, the age old 'music can change the world' concept. At one stage, a producer is telling Ally what an amazing thing it is that she's doing and how exceptional she is, yet I couldn't help but think, that whilst she's a talented performer, she is still just singing four chord pop songs.

Bradley Cooper has taken A Star is Born in a new direction to the previous films, yet maintained the important elements of the story. The story is tragic, yet uplifting, and is certainly a cut above many of the 2018 cinematic releases. Many people will cry by the end of the film and you won't leave the cinema and just forget the film before you get home. That's always a sign of a good film, when you can still feel it after you've been away from it for some time.

A Star is Born is now showing in cinemas everywhere.

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by Serena Reidy on 16/10/2018
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