A Star is Born Bradley Cooper (USA 2018) Lady Gaga; Bradley Cooper
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 30 Oct 2018; ticket: £6.25
Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is not so much a film as a comfort vehicle designed to transport Lady Gaga from A to B and back again with the minimum of fuss whilst extracting the maximum fare for the ride from the Gaga’d fan base. As a vehicle, A Star is Born is not so much directed rather deliberately manoeuvred from A to B as it floats, love side up, down the channel of its slow 136 minutes.
The movie itself doesn’t have to do much either as film or as script. The script panders to the usual tropes of success via dedicated talent and self destruction by alcohol. The shooting flicks from close shot to close shot, Gaga faciality dominating the screen with all it attendant frantic gesturings. The film has a leaden pace and except for a moment or two of brotherly confrontation is devoid of any filmic tension. A Star us Born just does what it promises: delivers up Gaga, big and close with some new songs.
What is interesting about A Star is Born, is that in a similar fashion to Battle of the Sexes in which Billie-Jean King emerges triumphant over Bobby Riggs, the emergence of the woman as the winning ticket, constitutes a sort of narrative non-event. In film terms, though differing in causal origination ( The Battle of Sexes being actual, A Star is Born deriving from Hollywood mythology) both films are mechanically directed outcomes that comply with contemporary ideology that the female protagonists succeed.
Unopposed uncomplicated plotting is dull, whether it tries to celebrate the success of women, proletarians or white American men. In the case of Battle of the Sexes and A Star is Born, both movies are saved from terminal life threatening dullness by the sinister left field side of their respective scripts, the man story: little Bobby and Jackson. Bill-Jean may have come won on the tennis court but Bobby Riggs took the movie, as the wheeler-dealer bad boy whom even the film’s formulaic script was able to suggest secreted unseen layers of devious calculation and manipulation.
In A Star is Born, Ally and Jackson aren’t formally opposed as were Billy and Bobby. Rather they are in affect, contrasted: she on the rise; he on the descent. But the ‘she’ in the ascent, can’t escape the curse of predictability in the role of the complete product. The model career girl with the model attitude Gaga rolls off the assembly line, doing little more than wait for the script-belt to advance her to super star status. The performance, other than moments of acted out concern about Jackson, (some cued pouting) requires little other than parading her different outfits and haircuts. Enough of course for the fan base.
Obversely Jackson on his way down, via the bottle and substances, is the more absorbing character. Even his voice is more interesting that Gaga’s, whose popsie brittle delivery confirms the general rule (there are of course plenty of exceptions anger for instance) that sincerity is in inverse relation to volume. Bradley Cooper as performer, even though singing is not the root of his claim to fame (arguably neither is singing at the root of Gaga’s, she is noted for being a celebrity meat pie, but she does claim to sing), produces a musical singing performance in A Star is Born, that outplays Gaga. Jackson’s soft pedalled lyrical voice delivers an emotive charge that is absent from his Star. His acting performance, which no more than replays the gestures and expressive devices familiar from Cohn Brother movies, still occasionally notches up moments of authenticity, so when the camera unlocks itself from Gaga onto him, the waning interest in the movie flags up a little. Cooper can’t carry the movie in his performance, any more than he can direct it. He does stop it from dropping dead on its feet.
Both Battle of the Sexes and A Star is Born have an allegorical weight that fits the times. A kind of sub-prime Aesopian moral fable or a Jungian message? Perhaps Jung fits better. If we see Billy/Bobby and Ally /Jackson not as discrete entities but as composite characters comprising male and female psychic strands, then there emerges the internalised drama of intertwined oppositions that is characteristic of the times. The female half of Billie/Bobby and Ally/Jackson striving for a pure type of female completion of object attainment as if life itself could be satisfied by striving for an abstract type of form. But the female is compromised and thwarted by the male anima which reaching for perfection crashes falls lost in the mire of contradiction and destruction but retaining a certain nobility which life itself bestows. The states of righteousness and trickster, female and male, defining internalised forces at play in the times. Forces so deeply internalised that they are at constant risk of playing out into chaos.