Co-Stars Shine in Revamped Musical
The new Bradley Cooper-directed A Star Is Born is NOT the 1954 Judy Garland A Star Is Born. This version doesn’t seem to have any connection to the Garland version. In that excellent production, James Mason played fading film star Norman Maine. Ms. Garland played Vicky Lester, a rising singer-dancer in big Hollywood musical films. She also happened to be married to Mason’s character. As her career zoomed skyward, Maine’s film career bottomed out as he went from “A” pictures to “B” programmers. Of course, it didn’t help that he was an alcoholic and was drunk during most of his filming.
Cooper, with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, wrote a new screenplay using only a smattering of the Garland film’s story. This time out, “Jackson” Maine is a hugely popular country/rock singer with hit records and sold-out stadiums to his credit. He also is an alcoholic, but manages to perform for a long time without it affecting his career.
One night, by chance, he ventures into a popular drag bar where straight Ally (Lady Gaga) performs her songs in between the drag performances. A brilliant singer, she and Jackson hit it off. The show is emceed by D.J. “Shagela” Pierce, an over the top campy drag queen who brings laughs and joy to her scenes.
Ally writes her own songs, and they seem to have deep meaning and heartfelt ideas that inspire Jackson to let her sing in his shows. She becomes a sensation -- and the crowds go wild. Lady Gaga has a beautiful voice, and her songs are just the thing for the young crowds. In the early scenes, she gets a bit sabotaged by the makeup and hair stylists who make her look like a bedraggled hag. The drag queens are more glamorous. Gaga plays Ally as an ordinary young woman with no glamorous aspirations. That comes later when she’s a star.
Any woman would fall for the darkly handsome Cooper, and in the film he is no less attractive. Their romance is riddled with problems, chaos, and agitation. Of course, she loves him like crazy and puts up with his alcoholic episodes that sometimes prove to be publicly embarrassing.
After their ill-advised marriage, Jackson’s career seems to hit a snag, and his drinking binges don’t help. Ally becomes more popular (a nod to the Garland saga) and becomes a huge singing star. Problems ensue.
Although the film is a drama with dreary circumstances, the music rises above all the dark scenes and helps elevate the spirit. Gaga is, of course, superb and one of our era’s great performers. Surprisingly, Bradley Cooper has a wonderfully deep singing voice. In fact, he kids that he “stole” his brother Bobby’s voice. As he was speaking I was thinking, ”Gee, he sounds just like Sam Elliott.” Surprise! Elliott shows up as his brother Bobby and they have the same voice. Elliott is, of course, famous for having a voice as deep as the Carlsbad Caverns. The two brothers clash and don’t get along. Bobby manages his brother’s career, but sees trouble because of Jackson’s drinking. Elliott is as comfortable as an old shoe. We love him!
This new version of the old Hollywood story is good. In fact, both stars shine in their individual portrayals. If a choice had to be made between this new film and the Garland film, the choice would have to be for Judy Garland. Her film, although butchered by Warner Bros at the time, is superb in every way.
(Released by Warner Bros./Live Nation Productions/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and rated “R” for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, substance abuse.)