Introducing Stephanie G. - A Star Is Born
On the back of one of the all-time great trailers, the expectations for this third remake of a 1937 film of the same name are sky high. There is star power, there is prestige and there are power ballads—all of which combine for a generally fun night at the movies. If the Oscars had a populist choice for Best Picture, it’s not hard to imagine this would be it. But does it work? Yes and no. The first half is a magical ride to stardom on the back of charm and earnestness. The second half is the juxtaposition of spirals upward and downward that both feel unsatisfying. The end result is a movie that is likely to divide, but unlikely to be forgotten.
Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) is an aging singer who happens to walk into a drag bar for a drink after his show. That just happens to be the moment that Ally (played by Lady Gaga a/k/a Stephanie Germanotta), a young waitress who performs on the side, takes the stage and wows the bar crowd with a rousing rendition of La Vie En Rose. After that scene (which was low-key hilarious), she and Jackson enjoy a night of random hijinks as a first date of sorts. When Jackson discovers Ally’s songwriting prowess, he decides to work her into his act.
What starts as an impromptu feature on-stage turns into a Grammy-winning career, as she navigates everything from pressures to change her act to Jackson’s substance abuse. In and out of the picture is Jackson’s older brother, Bobby (played beautifully by Sam Elliott), who warns Ally that Jackson is a handful. All the while, she climbs as the pair try to hold it together in the face of pressure from all sides.
When you watch two hours of someone doing something, it can become difficult to imagine anyone else doing it as well. And while that is the case pretty often in movies, it is especially so here. This is Gaga’s role. She is so wholly credible as the unlikely and reluctant star that she gives the movies its backbone, soul and glow. She is the movie. The film tries its hand at other notes—like the friction filled relationship between Jackson and his brother and Ally’s complicated relationship with her father’s (played by Andrew Dice Clay) affinity for stardom. All these do, however, is enhance the desire to understand Ally, and that is where the movie somewhat misses the mark.
I have literally no idea what animates Ally. I thought back through the events of the film and can’t recall anything that points to something like a motivation for going down this path. She wasn’t all that interested in money or fame when we meet her, and it isn’t clear that any of that changes during the movie. So for her to deal with the whirlwind of nonsense that comes with making it as a popstar seems slightly off. Lady Gaga sells it well, but the movie definitely could have given her more to work with.
That said, as a directorial debut for Bradley Cooper and an acting debut for Lady Gaga, this works on a lot of levels. The first half—the buildup to her first time on the big stage—is almost magical. When that happens, though, it instantly feels like the movie has peaked. I kept thinking there was no way the movie would rise that high again, and that was mostly true. The result is a second half that feels less urgent and more plodding. The final musical number tries its hardest to overcome this, but the ‘star is born’ in the first half—Stephanie Germanotta.
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