Musing On the 4th A Star Is Born (2018)
by Paul Cogley
In 2014, I wrote a review on this blog about the 1975 remake of A Star Is Born. Or rather, it was more like a musing on the film, since Azrael had already reviewed it, as well as reviewed the original A Star Is Born (1937) and A Star Is Born (1954). Here again I want to present my musings rather than write a typical film review. However, I recommend you see the film if you enjoy a good musical romance-tear-jerker. On the scale of its predecessors, my rating for this film would be on the upper side between the 1954’s great remake and the 1975’s botched remake.
Previously I wrote of my opinion that Barbra Streisand’s self-indulgence on the classic story spoiled her film version in various ways, which accounted for why filmmakers avoided newer remakes. So this summer I was gratified to hear that finally—after more than 40 years—Hollywood’s banishment of A Star Is Born was finally at an end.
And so, earlier this month, Dyanne and I took our seats at the Del Oro Theater—a historic Art Deco theater in Grass Valley, CA —for the opening night screening. How lucky we are to have one of the grand vintage film venues in our community to see first-run films!
While we waited for the movie trailers, I looked around and saw a crowd of about 200 with a good cross section of millennials, Xers, and boomers. I asked the young couple near us what brought them to the show and they said they were fans of the two stars. They were referring to Bradley Cooper, 43, who plays the “falling star” and who also directed the film in his directorial debut, and Lady Gaga, 32, who plays the “rising star” in her film acting debut.
Timing can be everything, and I very much approve of these two stars’ decision to make this film now in their respective careers. In my previous review, I discussed the reasons why the ages of the stars of A Star Is Born are so important in the casting of the story, which still holds for this version as well:
“In any version of A Star is Born past or, hopefully, future, the rising female star cannot be an ingénue—she’s done her journeyman work and is now past her 20s—and we absolutely must see the male lead prematurely burn out from the pressures of stardom and his own ego. We could not simply watch his downfall because he’s aging ungracefully. It’s not a story about the young and old, it’s about love and rivalry within the 30s and 40s set. A Star Is Born can be redone for every generation because it is about the select few whose struggles get them to the top and then peers into how badly it can go from there, and therein lies its appeal.”
I have heard of two sources for the inspiration of the original A Star Is Born in 1937. The George Cukor directed What Price Hollywood (1932) is often cited because of its similar storyline. Recently I heard another theory that the original A Star Is Born was inspired or based on Hollywood gossip of the day about the rocky marriage between superstar Barbara Stanwyck and her husband Frank Fay, a faded star of the New York stage. Fay pushed Stanwyck in her early career while neglecting his own, and by 1937 his career had nosedived and reputation soured from his alcoholism and own misbehavior. I find it interesting that in 1937 Fay was 45 and Stanwyck was 30.
In my previous review, my biggest complaint about the flawed Streisand version was her decision to play up her own role while downplaying Kristofferson’s. She basically played a Streisand-type singing sensation, while Kristofferson was relegated to impersonating a Jim Morrison-type rock god. That was a shame because he was in top form in the 1970s as a Americana-style singer-songwriter. However, perhaps Kristofferson is having the last laugh. In this version, Bradley Cooper plays a singer whose persona might have been modeled after Kris Kristofferson’s. The songs are in the Americana style and co-written by Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson. Kristofferson toured with Willie Nelson in the 1970s in the supergroup The Outlaws, with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
The box office draw for the new A Star is Born has a lot to do with people’s curiosity about Lady Gaga in her debut film. Her fans want to check out if the superstar entertainer will be able to build a second career in Hollywood. Over the decades, many hit-making singing sensations have tried, but few succeeded with that ambition. The winners include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Will Smith, and Justin Timberlake. Oh, and give Kristofferson an honorable mention.
In this film, I feel that Bradley Cooper was charitable to Lady Gaga. For one thing, Lady Gaga gets to play a singer who sings like Lady Gaga. Also, her character’s development is often depicted in easygoing improvised scenes involving her and Cooper. This doesn’t tax Lady Gaga’s acting ability too much, and she gets to show off her natural charm. As a film star, she has an appealing and interesting face and natural body language, which are both must-haves for any sustainable Hollywood career.
Music is central to all of the A Star Is Born remakes. The earlier versions did not disappoint musically. Version #2 had Judy Garland singing one of her biggest hits, “The Man Who Got Away,” which still ranks #11 in the American Film Institutes Top 100 Film Songs. Barbra Streisand’s film has her singing one of her biggest hits, “Evergreen,” which ranks #16 on the AFI’s song list. The Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga duet “Shallow” debuted on the Billboard Top 100 at #23. It’s a good song, but who knows if it will make the AFI list someday.
One postscript: seeing A Star Is Born on opening night made for a fun evening out. For one thing, it’s always a joy when one’s laughter at comedy bits is joined by that of a couple hundred other people also enjoying themselves in the same theater. That would most likely happen when you’re out to see a star-studded romantic movie on opening night. Not enough films these days fit that bill.