Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga's A STAR IS BORN: It's great -- for about half the running time

It's a good thing that A STAR IS BORN -- the current film is at least the fourth go-round, under the same title, for this much-filmed tale of a younger woman who becomes a star under the tutelage of an older man whose life and career are flailing and failing -- is so energized and fulfilling during its first half.

This probably means that the hordes of fans of its two stars, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (at right and below), will easily hold on through the movie's much more tiresome and cliché-ridden downer of a second half.

That initial hour or so of this overlong, 135-minute movie moves like a house afire, as director, co-star and co-writer Cooper brings the tale easily into the 21st century, while Ms Gaga proves that her acting chops are nearly as good as her singing.

Cooper and crew toss in everything from a gay BFF (Anthony Ramos, below, right) and a drag club, at which our heroine used to waitress and now sometimes sings, to her dumb-but-loveable dad (Andrew Dice Clay, above, right) and his pals to place us resolutely on her side. Further, the several set pieces that dot the first half are handled with such energy, speed and specifics that they win us over completely and make the character's rather meteoric rise seem pretty believable.

Interestingly, Cooper dispenses with much of the expository dialog and situations that we usually see in films such as this so that things move faster, even as the pace grow more breakneck. What dialog there is may not be crackerjack, but we don't really care since the film is barreling along so quickly and enjoyably.

Granted, someone's rise is generally more lively and fun than someone's fall, but the enormous difference here drains way too much energy out of the film, which grows consistently slower and more ponderous as it reaches its uber-clichéd and tearful conclusion.

Further, Cooper has turned his character into way too much a good guy (his only real fault is that nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol) while making the real villain of the movie the heroine's evil manager (Rafi Gavron) -- who not only tells her to do all the wrong stuff, career-wise, in terms of her "being true to herself," but is also practically single-handedly responsible for her hubby's sad fate. So nasty and over-the-top is this guy that, though clean-shaven, you would not be at all surprised to find him twirling his non-existent mustache.

This switch in time, energy and concern from our heroine to our non-hero reduces Gaga's role to second tier -- which is too bad, since she was the spark in part one. She is given too little to do and not nearly enough decent dialog (it becomes more noticeably so-so in the second half) so that her performance begins to rely more and more on the usual clichés. (That's Sam Elliott, below, right, who plays our drunken hero's off-and-on estranged older brother.)

All this may not matter much to major fans of the two stars. But it did to me. And it may to others out there who recall the earlier iterations of A Star Is Born. While this re-telling is a whole lot better than the 1976 Streisand fiasco, it does not hold a candle to the Cukor/Garland/Mason version from 1954.

A Warner Brothers release running two hours and fifteen minutes, the movie opens nationwide this Friday, October 5. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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