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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

A Star is Born | Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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A Star is Born | Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle | Review

The now-familiar story of an ultra-famous man’s personal and career decline while his “discovery”, an unknown woman with major talent, ascends into superstardom is the fourth time that a star has been born on the big screen.  So, how did this baby turn out?

Starting with actor/actress iterations in Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (1937) and then Judy Garland and James Mason (1954) before morphing into singers/musicians Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristopherson (1976) the current dueling duo is comprised of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

All of these declining men want the ascending women to realize their potential – until they (the women) actually do.  Then, the mean, name-calling drunk appears, embarrassing himself at important award shows.  The men then realize what they must do, and do it.

That pretty much sums up the plot of all four versions.  The latest update incorporates multiple f-bombs and a nod to 21st century hookup culture into the mix.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a fading rock god, so marinated in liquor that he asks his driver to find him a neighborhood bar while swigging hard stuff from his well-stocked SUV’s bar.  Right away we know that, for him, too much is not enough.  He enters a drag cabaret and catches a performance by Ally (Lady Gaga) the only female performer, belting out Edith Piaf with taped-on eyebrows while lying on top of assorted surfaces in the packed venue.  Eyes lock, and Jackson is both smitten and impressed.

Ally is an under- appreciated and verbally abused restaurant server who sings at the bar most nights.  She and Jackson spend the entire night getting to know one another (not that way) and he invites her to his next gig in another state.  She says no but changes her mind, the first of many times she will be coerced into doing things she is reluctant to do – for her own good, you understand.

While Cooper is likeable, Gaga is the draw and the film rides on her extreme popularity.  Always the most fascinating image on the screen (watch for eye-color changes) her vocal prowess is impressive, whether she is belting out a sultry ballad or delivering a delicate range-blasting soprano.  The two leads mesh on stage, but have a more like cousin-like chemistry throughout the rest of the film, more in fascination with each other than in love.

Cooper makes his directorial debut and co-wrote (along with Will Fetters and Eric Roth) this 2 hour and 15 minute saga of clashing career arcs, alcoholic excesses, betrayals, triumph, love, and loss.  And of course, some improbabilities, but you already knew that if you’ve ever encountered the 1976 Barbra Streisand/ Kris Kristofferson scene where an easy listening ballad belted out by Streisand somehow appeases an unruly crowd who’d come to hear a hard rock anthem.  Lady Gaga’s Ally has a similar effect on a rock-oriented crowd, but here it’s somehow more believable.

As a director, Cooper knows how to command viewer attention, but often squanders opportunities for cinematic impact. Scenes can drag.  Extraneous characters seem to be force-fed into the plot.  Lingering shots and extreme close-ups come across as more awkward than profound, especially in the last hour, which tallies up more “oops” than “oomph” due to scene length, dialogue, and pacing.

Gaga is fearless and most of the film’s kudos are due to her screen intensity, an electric presence in 5” heels.  As an actor, Cooper’s Jackson Maine is sometimes sympathetic, always hair-impaired, but capable of strong performances both off and on stage.

Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Michael Harney, and Barry Shabaka Henley co-star but are (arguably) irrelevant to the plot, more like reminders that other people live in the world besides Cooper and Gaga.  A case could be made for Elliott, cast as Jackson’s brother, who supplies a good deal of back-story.  Sadly, the film’s first half sparkles with promise then suddenly loses its sheen.

This Star could do with a good polishing.

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