Monday 10 September 2018

A STAR IS BORN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Horrid, Unnecessary Remake of Classic Tale

A Star is Born (2018)
Dir. Bradley Cooper
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I have absolutely no problem with remakes. Taking a great story and creating a new adaptation within a different cultural/societal context can yield considerable fruit. A Star is Born has several terrific incarnations. It also has a couple of abominable ones.

It all began in 1932 with George Cukor's marvelous What Price Hollywood? in which a waitress (Constance Bennett) is swept off her feet and turned into a star by an alcoholic film director (Lowell Sherman) who eventually commits suicide after shaming himself, and by extension, the woman he loves.

Producer David O. Selznick though, finally perfected the story in 1937's A Star is Born when the script, co-written by Dorothy Parker and directed by William A. Wellman, paired a big movie star on his way down (Frederic March) with a burgeoning actress (Janet Gaynor). They fall in love naturally and the fading star turns Gaynor into a huge star, but his battles with booze eventually create a situation wherein he realizes that he is dragging down the woman he loves. He commits suicide, not so much out of self-pity (though there's considerable self-loathing on his part) and his death is a sacrifice to "save" the career and life of the woman he loves. The movie is just about perfect and is still one of the most vivid portraits of the Hollywood studio system ever made.

1954, however, brought the greatest version of the film to life when George Cukor returned to the story he first made in 1932. Here he paired James Mason as Norman Maine, a big movie star in serious decline who meets aspiring singer/actress Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), makes her a star and eventually, sacrifices himself via suicide when his alcoholism not only drags him down, but threatens to destroy the woman he loves. Oh, this version is wonderful! It doesn't get better than Judy Garland and James Mason and Cukor at the peak of his powers.

Alas, 1976 brought us the Frank Pierson-directed abomination starring Kris Kristofferson, a boozing rock star who meets Barbara Streisand, a burgeoning singer. Same deal. They fall in love, he makes her a star, and eventually he dies. The problem with the story is that there's no sacrifice. He gets boozed up and dies in a car accident. That's not the only problem, though. The movie is miserably written, virtually non-directed and little more than a showcase for Streisand. The picture stinks to high heaven.

Though Bradley Cooper's 2018 version of A Star is Born pretty much stinks, it's a masterpiece compared to the dreadful 1976 version. Director Cooper plays an alkie rock star who meets the execrable Lady Gaga, falls in love with her, makes her a star and eventually commits suicide in an act of sacrifice.

This new version of the film does offer a decent performance from director Cooper, but his skills as a director are woeful. Most of the movie is shot in dull closeups and not even the musical numbers have a sense of scope or sweep to them. Lady Gaga is a supremely mediocre actress and it's almost impossible to listen to her thudding dull monotonous line readings. Even worse is the music in the film. It's so mediocre, I'd not even dare to call it music. (At least the horrendous 1976 version had genuine songs written by real songwriters like Paul Williams.)

How anyone could even begin to enjoy this new version of the film is beyond me. It's incompetently directed, has a dreadful score and a complete washout in female lead Lady Gaga.

Look, there are three great versions of this story. Do yourself a favour and watch them instead. And if truth be told, the soundtrack for the awful 1976 version offers some decent tunes worth listening to (as opposed to Cooper's growling and Gaga's caterwauling).


A Star is Born is a TIFF 2018 Gala Presentation.