A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born

The surprising thing about the new A Star Is Born is how fresh it feels. It is a thrice-told tale, but this version does not scream: “retread.” The film’s stars and (especially) its music energize the storytelling and make A Star Is Born truly satisfying.

Even moviegoers who have zero familiarity with the previous iterations of this plot can guess early on where it’s going. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a big rock star with booze and pill addictions. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a food service employee who sings for kicks in the gay bar where Maine just happens to stop in for a drink.

He gives her a leg up into the music biz and, as they fall in love, their careers move in separate directions: one up, one down.

If you had doubts that Lady Gaga could handle the female lead, well, those doubts were mistaken. She has two killer musical numbers that bookend the film and several other songs in the film, including duets with Cooper. And… her acting beyond the music is solid. This film marks the birth of her movie stardom.

Cooper is an Oscar-winning actor but his musical chops are also impressive. He wears many hats here: he directed the film and is one of three credited screenwriters. His speaking voice in the film is deeper than in his prior films. It accurately sounds like that of a man who has been a lifelong boozer.

Daddy issues play a role in this A Star Is Born. Maine’s dad—also a heavy drinker—died when Jackson was 13. His older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) helped raise him, got him into performing and still works to keep the younger brother in line. Their relationship is not just brotherly but also a bit father/son.

Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) points out that talent alone is not enough to be successful in showbiz, that looks matter. He says this to soften her disappointment as her musical aspirations stall. But when Maine offers her the chance to join him on tour, her dad encourages to go for it.

Along with the inspired casting of Clay, director Cooper brings Dave Chappelle to the role of Maine’s old chum who rescues him after a binge.

Sometimes the early positive buzz on a movie, often fueled by those who attend the late summer film festivals, fizzles when the movie finally appears on local screens. A Star Is Born (2018) lives up to the buzz. Strong box office is a sure bet. And this may become one that gets repeat viewings.

 

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Blue Jasmine

How much money did Woody Allen lose to Bernie Madoff? If he was not among the many who were defrauded (Madoff’s ripoff total was some 65 billion dollars), Allen probably has friends in New York city who were losers in the gigantic Ponzi scheme.

Blue Jasmine is ostensibly the story of Jeanette “Jasmine” French (Cate Blanchett) whose husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) went to jail for investment fraud a la Madoff. After the feds have seized all their belongings, Jasmine goes from Park Avenue to San Francisco to stay with a poorer relation, her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Both were adopted and have never been particularly close.

Blue Jasmine also illustrates the damage done to people by investment scandals like the Madoff affair. Not just to Jasmine, but also to Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and to Hal’s son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), among others. Cate Blanchett’s performance may be the main reason to see Blue Jasmine, but Allen’s script (based on repercussions of the real-life fraud) is flawless and is the framework for this excellent movie.

Other memorable characters populate Blue Jasmine. Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is a volatile, tactless greaser who nonetheless accurately pegs Jasmine. Al (Louis C.K.) is a flirty charmer who momentarily woos Ginger away from Chili. Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) is the classy guy who appears to be Jasmine’s ticket back to wealth and respectability.

Jasmine is, at various times during the film, a woman to be pitied and a woman to be scorned. She has no apparent misgivings about her behavior when she was a woman of leisure, the wife of a man with limitless wealth. She has difficulty adjusting to her new personal economy and lifestyle and, like many working women, has to fight off the advances of her boss. Her crises have left her dependent on booze and pills to maintain a semblance of sanity. When she meets a wealthy man who is impressed by her style and grace, she is ready to shove off from Ginger’s generous charity in a heartbeat. Can she handle reality or is she a big phony?

A favorite scene is the one that finds Jasmine in an eatery booth with Ginger and Augie’s two sons. She shares with them some memories of the unraveling of her charmed life in NYC. The boys stare back with blank expressions, but she tells the tale anyway, perhaps because she knows that they don’t perceive the ramifications as their mom might.

Cate Blanchett is a likely Oscar nominee for best actress. Woody Allen has given her a timely, memorable character and she has delivered a performance that may be her best. Blue Jasmine is a “must see” movie. Not just for Cate’s work, but also for Woody’s.