With sincere hopes of basketball season lasting smoothly from its playoff start date this week to its conclusion in mid-October, I am writing this to give a nod to the longest Movie Season I’ve had since officially creating the label back in 2013. Typically, I spend extracurricular time on movies (at home) from after the NBA Finals have concluded until the end of August, right around the start of college football season. This year, with the traditional basketball season peak postponed, I have been watching a lot of movies since early April, hence the rewatchable conversations on this blog. Last weekend, a memorable Movie Season 2020 (presumably) closed out with a bang, a replay of one of my favorite films in recent memory: A Star Is Born.
I saw the 2018 powerhouse Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performance at the theater with my wife, loved it, and had not seen it since. Sarah bought me the Blu-Ray for Valentine’s Day last year, but the organic desire to rewatch it had simply not hit me until recently. After my second viewing, I highly doubt that much time will pass before my third. What a truly outstanding movie!
The initial 30-minutes pack quite the emotional punch, setting the stage for the experience to follow. Cooper’s opening salvo, featuring the awesome “Black Eyes” song in the first scene, a lot of booze, and his best Sam Elliott voice impersonation, might well belong in the Hollywood pantheon before all is said and done. Rarely if ever has there been a more powerful character introduction; in film, as in life, it is challenging to get to know someone in a really short period, but sometimes it does memorably happen. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a good dude and a substance abuser; a kind soul with a-hole tendencies; a man with a dark past who, despite the rock star status, never escaped it. Quickly, you find yourself holding your breath for the next two hours, hoping that the deeply flawed but sympathetic persona does not meet the tragic end foreshadowed from the outset.
Gaga, meanwhile, is a revelation as Ally, reshaping my entire perception of her (I was never a fan of her music or her over-the-top gimmick in pop culture). She pulled an Alter Bridge and found the real, though. A Star Is Born, indeed…Gaga is a movie star. Ally is incredibly likeable, a genuine person whose success feels well-earned by the time she belts out “Shallow” with Maine on stage just a quarter-hour after killing it in a drag bar, an applause-worthy role reversal from uber-talent who’d given up on her dream to being gifted a grand gesture from the universe. The flattering “all-time” comment made about Maine’s intro? It could easily apply to Ally too. She hits the big stage with Cooper for the film’s signature moment and song at around the half-hour mark; the hair on my arms stood up in the theater when she began the chorus (“I’m off the deep end”) and did again on replay last weekend. Hypothetically, a reworked version of the movie could have built up to that moment for over an hour or more and been the film’s climax. It is impressive that the moment carried so much weight with so little build.
The soundtrack is truly Cooper and Gaga’s co-star. The music performed by Maine and Ally so seamlessly flows through the film’s run-time, overtly aiding in the story’s progression, Ally’s in particular. Pop music is not known for its storytelling prowess, so when she ditches the piano and the soulful lyrical stylings for the catchy beats, the choreographed dances, and the comparatively inconsequential vocals, it seemingly changes what she is about. Jackson’s suicide, it has been said, was his attempt to save her from his downward spiral, but it could also be said it was intended to save her from herself, intent as he was on making sure that she maximized her opportunity to speak to people with her music and as obvious as it was that he was unhappy about the career arc she was following under the management of the movie’s (non-alcohol) antagonist. Maine, I think, sees in Ally someone pure and untainted who has something important to say. The final scene returns her to that purer state, ironically singing a song that he wrote that she is performing in memorial tribute to him.
Songs, in addition to those previously mentioned, like “La Vie En Rose,” “Maybe It’s Time,” and “Always Remember Us This Way” fill the movie with awesome music and take you through a range of emotions that, along with the stars and the excellent supporting efforts from Andrew Dice Clay (as Ally’s dad) and Sam Elliott (as Jackson’s brother), make A Star Is Born an enormous success. A scene each that stand out from Clay and Elliott – stand out might be too soft, really, because these scenes add the kind of depth to the movie that push it up the rewatchable rankings for me – are when Clay is carrying Cooper to the shower after the titanically embarrassing moment at the Grammys, speaking to his son-in-law in a way that any father of a daughter can relate to, and when Elliott, upon hearing Cooper tell him that it was not their dad that Maine idolized, but Elliott’s Bobby, backs his truck out of Jackson’s driveway with his eyes welling up. With rare exception, my primary expectation of a movie is for it to make me feel something. A Star Is Born gives me the feels.
And so that brings me back to the hyperbolic headline about this being the best movie of last decade. That is probably a topic for an hour long podcast once I’ve figured out a formula that logically suits the subject, but with the songs (and concerts) providing great entertainment and the drama deeply striking several emotional chords, I certainly would consider it a candidate. It’s a real cinematic triumph.