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A STAR ISN’T BORN

The best compliment I can give the new version of A Star is Born is that I didn’t mind it. I’ve done my best to avoid previews and hype in order to view it with fresh eyes, and I think it’s pretty good. In a part crafted especially for her, Lady Gaga gives a decent-enough performance, but I can’t agree with the wild predictions I’ve read of movie stardom ahead. She has the ability to fill this specific role reasonably well, under the careful tutelage of her costar, Bradley Cooper. (Her singing voice is another matter: the woman has tremendous power and potency.)

But it’s Cooper who walks away with the honors here. He is completely credible as a drug-and-drink-addicted country music star, and his vocals are quite good. The fact that he directed himself while starring in the film is impressive, to say the least. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography brings us up close for the many intimate scenes the two stars share. Sam Elliott is well cast but underutilized as Cooper’s brother, while others in the supporting cast like Andrew Dice Clay (as Gaga’s loving father) get a chance to shine.

If you’ve never seen earlier incarnations of this story, the bare bones remain the same as they were in 1937, 1954, and 1976 (and even in 1932, when the story was first hatched as What Price Hollywood?).  A great male star is about to burn out when he meets a wide-eyed newcomer and helps her reach the heights of show business. It’s a timeless tale of love, fame, and sacrifice.

The new script is credited to Eric Roth, Cooper, and Will Fetters, with full recognition for the writers of all three previous pictures. If you remember any of them well, you may miss the bite of the 1937 and 1954 renderings… and knowing the ending, you may become impatient for it to arrive, especially as the current movie passes the two-hour mark. What’s more, given the lessons of the existing films, it’s surprising that there are so many gaps of logic in the 2018 narrative.

Ultimately and inevitably, this becomes a generational issue: young people may have no awareness of the earlier films, and one shouldn’t have to take an entrance exam to see a movie. Fans of Lady Gaga may be impressed that she can act at all.

For me, the harshest word I can use to describe the new A Star is Born is “forgettable.” I’m not a great fan of the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson rendition, but there are moments with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March and Judy Garland and James Mason that I will never, ever forget. I wish I could say the same about this well-intentioned remake.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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