Ugh. You may have wondered, oh esteemed reader of No But Listen, why we have declined to cover one of the biggest movies of last year, A Star Is Born. And the truth is: we didn’t bloody want to.
And now, to be clear, that’s not because we have some vendetta against musical cinema as a whole. Or, at least, I don’t: I’m a passionate fan of musical theatre, and, by extension, a lot of musical cinema, too, from the bizarre horror nightmare of Repo! The Genetic Opera, to the transgressive gender-bending brilliance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This isn’t a dismissal because of the mere mention of musicality; this is an utter dislike of the major musicals that have broken the mainstream in the last decade or so. Since the utterly atrocious La La Land, especially, I have been about as far removed from interest in navel-gazing half-musicals about The Nature of Fame and The Great Pain of The Artist. And that, despite what it may want to be, is exactly what A Star is Born happens to end up as.
And that’s not to say it’s an awful movie, because it just obviously isn’t. Following the story of a fading rock star (Bradley Cooper) who discovers a young, underrated singer (Lady Gaga), as the two of them wind up involved in a torrid love affair that has a tragic blah blah there have already been three entire versions of this movie and this one has been such a cultural phenomenon unto itself I’d be stunned if you got this far without gleaning most of the plot by osmosis anyway. A Star is Born is, at best, a competent movie, and that’s not a terrible thing: director Bradley Cooper hits the filmmaking 101 tropes to moderate effect, while the veteran cast does the job. Lady Gaga is too charismatic not to have some screen presence, and yes, her singing is gorgeous and the songs are perfectly passable if you happen to be a fan of this thumpingly melodic rock.
But there’s a bloated self-indulgence that stops A Star is Born really taking flight, despite polished production and some solid performances. There just isn’t enough here to bring a fresh take to the overwrought, overdone story of fame and pain and artistry, and it’s not just because this is the fourth iteration of A Star is Born that we’ve seen hit the big screen. In the last few years, we have been peering ever-deeper into what being a celebrity actually means, especially as it relates to those within the movie industry – the power it brings, the way it can be and has been exploited. Bringing out a movie which just rehashes the same overwrought notions about fame that have been explored for more than seventy years since the first iteration of this film came out and across countless other better, wittier, sharper movies in the interim, just feels utterly pointless.
But more than anything, this movie seems to be a chance to tick off as many awards-guarantor boxes as it can: featuring a big-screen debut from a pop cultural star, an actor turning director for the first time, a remake of a classic movie(s), an internalised look at the industry of fame for the navel-gazing back-patters amongst the awards nominators. We talk about Oscar-bait a lot, but this feels like such a blatant and obvious attempt to garner awards attention that this cynical checking-off overwhelms any relative merit the film might have. And, to me, renders this nothing more than a self-indulgent and overall dull attempt at profundity where so many others have done it better.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Variety)