Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper

Title: A Star is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Release: 2018

This is exemplary Hollywood. A true love story without any clichés despite its numerous remakes (this is the 4th so far!) It follows the kind of plot that rarely happens in real life but is a trademark of classic Hollywood filmmaking: the typical infamous waitress whose talent in singing is unearthed by a superstar who, in turn, falls in love with her and all this leads to stardom. So simple.

The above description would usually be sufficient to put off a significant part of a demanding arthouse audience. But guess what: this is the exception to the rule. A Star is Born is the kind of cinema that features thought-provoking direction (here by Bradley Cooper himself), first-class acting and this difficult to pin-down X-factor with which so many classic American movies dazzle us (Is it grace? The bitter-sweetness of every-day life when presented to us on the big screen? The false elegance of vanity? A mixture of all three?)

First and foremost, the film stands out for its stellar acting. It is a known fact that in award ceremonies, it is the exaggerated performances that win in the end. Extreme roles, troubled people, psychotic characters, the socially inept — you name it, this is the award-winning formula which manages to impress the average viewer, but leaves most demanding moviegoers asking for more, not to mention that such performances usually diminish a film’s artistic value. What we are dealing here though, is something entirely different: Bradley Cooper portrays an alcoholic rock star called Jack (most people would yawn at this point) but this is the kind of performance where he doesn’t stumble or fall over things (well, once only!) or stutter, nor does he resort to easy acting techniques that usually reduce alcoholic people to mere caricatures. Bradley Cooper’s Jack is the introvert, solitary sort of person. His acting methods are simple, yet ingenious in their execution: his voice is now deeper, his articulation is slow, his gaze condescending, hesitant even — all this without a single trace of exaggeration.

As for Lady Gaga, here portraying Ally, she has been a revelation for many. This is not surprising: from her artistic development so far, as a trendsetter pop-singer, she has revealed many traces of artistic maturity, especially with her more intimate pieces (just listen to her when she sits at the piano; having said that, I don’t want to underestimate her impressively dramatic live appearances that often reach operatic heights). Her mastery is also applied here: This is possibly the most convincing, realistic and complete portrayal of the main character when compared to the same role in the previous movie incarnations (and we’re dealing with the likes of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Janet Gaynor). Her transformation from a mere drag queen show singer to a superstar (not that different from the star she is today) is achieved in the most imperceptible manner: is this not, after all, one of the definitions of great acting?

Bradley Cooper has also received a lot of accolades, both as the lead actor and the director (this is his impressive directorial debut in fact). I mentioned above the simple means of acting he uses for his character and it is the same simplicity of methods he employs when directing: After the first close-up shots, one realises that we, the viewers, feel as if we were the target of screaming fans, drawn into a world of mass exposure and plenty of alcohol. The juxtaposition of close-ups, long shots and a mixture of different angles, as well as the clever use of lighting along with the realistic ambience of the concert scenes (the sound engineering is particularly impressive), make up for a claustrophobic atmosphere. The constant fan crowds are hinting at an underlying threat, which is hard to define, and in the end does not seem all that different from the deceitful after-taste of falling in love.

A Star is Born is not your average love story, nor is it a story of overnight success. Each one of us will come out of the cinema with different insights and some of the questions the movie is trying to answer are fundamental to any ordinary person. For the artists among us, the hints could be many: How is falling in love connected to artistic success? Does it affect the oeuvre of an artist or is the artistic outpouring the result of a marketing recipe? Doesn’t artistic stress and quick success share the same adrenaline one feels when falling in love? A Star is Born is like a ballad that constantly reminds us how within all the madness of love and success sometimes lies disillusionment and disappointment. Isn’t this a paradox, I hear you ask. Not if one accepts that happiness goes hand in hand with self-deception.

But to cut a long story short: it is very rare nowadays to find love stories that carry the old Hollywood melodrama and at the same time have all the artistic merits of first-class direction and acting. This is undoubtedly going to be one of best films of the year.



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