A STAR IS BORN***** It Sure Shines Bright!


 

FOR SO LONG, we’ve marvelled at the whizzbangerie, the pomp and glittering theatricality of Lady Gaga. But who knew she could evoke such raw, honest passion in a song? Who knew she could act as well as she did? Bradley Cooper (for me) cemented his A-class acting chops on American Hustle; but who knew he too could belt out a melody like this? (And not the half-assed pass-for-singing Ryan Gosling offered in La La Land). Who knew he could direct?

A Star is Born (version 4) has offered us two new stars, reborn in a new light in this immensely likeable movie. We witness the downward spiral of Bradley’s character, Jack, a charismatic rock star cowboy who falls head over heels for Ally, (Gaga), a waitress moonlighting as a singer in a Trans club. His search one night, after the adrenaline and energy of a concert, for a drink finds him both the drink and the woman he’ll shepherd to stardom and fall in love with.

The drink becomes his demon; the woman becomes for a while, his saviour.

As his star declines and hers rises, the story examines the delicate balance between artistic authenticity and commercial image making. Both Jack and Ally are fighting against their own personal imperfections: he has to fight his way past his failing hearing and his tinnitus; she has to overcome her looks. To Jack, she’s beautiful; to her, her nose is too big; to the industry she’s just not right.

Jack’s intention is for Ally to be the master of her own story, her own voice. He tries to shape her to always remain authentic to herself. But it is the shaping influence of her manager that succeeds. She is turned into brand and that creative soulful honesty is reshaped by her manager (Rafi Gavron) who turns her into a mix of Madonna and Beyoncé. A star may have been born, but marketing has determined its make up.

Jack however remains the tortured hard drinking cowboy, untamed by success. The last twenty minutes of the movie focuses on him, the doomed existential hero destined to ride out into the sunset. Perhaps it’s an ironic comment on America itself

In a sense, Ally the person remains a tender, loyal loving partner, and caring daughter (much is made of their contrasting family histories) still capable of finding something worthwhile to say. Ally the Star is a success but an unreal creation moulded to please a fickle crowd.

So though it’s a story about creativity, fame, success and music, perhaps it’s also really a sly and cynical look at how we all curate our own inner stars: either stay authentic and court, at best, modest success or be the brand you need to be. Screw authenticity. Your star is waiting to be born.

The chemistry between the two principals is tangibly strong. The directing really lulls you into the feeling that the intensity between the characters is shared by the actors. Only just acting folks. Maybe.

Bradley Cooper’s directing feels exciting and fresh. Certainly the opening scenes (some actually filmed live at Glastonbury) drops the viewer into the energy, sweat and sexuality of rock star performing. Cooper (who co-wrote) develops his story through a series of contrasts that build the tale. We shift from his ear-bursting sell-out stadium crowds to her quiet performance in the sleazy Trans club. He’s singing of his life; she’s singing a French pre war tune…too shy to sing from her heart. As she becomes more and more surrounded by handlers, he becomes more and more alone. And yet, though these two lives really operate on increasingly different planes, the love that binds makes nonsense of the differences.
The music is tremendous. Cooper and Lady Gaga are credited with writing most of the songs (along with a suite of others). So along with directing and singing, Bradley Cooper can now also add song writing, and screenplays to his CV.

Take a bow Bradley

 

A STAR IS BORN. Dir: Bradley Cooper. With: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, , Sam Elliott, Greg Grunberg, Dave Chapelle, Cinematography: Matthew Libatique (Mother!), Writers: Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) , Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

 

THE WIFE*****Outstanding


THE SCRIPT (from Jane Anderson) is word perfect: that balance between the convincing conversations of fully realized people and philosophical, thematic heft. The acting (especially between the two principals Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce ) is peerless. Indeed the nuances of Close’s portrayal of Joan Castleman, the eponymous wife – restrained, agonised, celebratory and finally steely determined and angry – is probably a career best and, thus far, the Oscar shoe-in. Interestingly the role of Joan as a young woman is beautifully played by Annie Starke, Ms Close’s actual daughter. And Swedish director, Bjorn Runge’s directing is for the most part unobtrusive (though he can’t resist amping up the score at times to underline the drama); it allows his actors room to shine.

This would not be the movie to miss this year.

The very complex story, from the book by Meg Wolitzer centres around the awarding of the Nobel prize for literature to Joe Castleman (Pryce). He is lionised and feted by the awarding committee as the man whose genius and emotional insights have reframed the idea of the novel.

But, as one investigative biographer (Christian Slater as Nathaniel, the faux charming snoop) seeks to discover, is this true? For a medium that presents its truths through ‘lies’, what really is the truth to this much celebrated genius? Certainly Joe has created a neat narrative, a sort of self-hagiography, that he presents to the world. But it’s, mainly, a lie. The Wife presents a world in which there are self-protective fictions we wrap around ourselves. These necessary shields mask the deeper truths about our real, and private, selves.

The truth Nathaniel, the biographer, feels he’s unearthed is really the wife’s story: Here’s a woman who was herself a talented writer – a woman writer in a male, misogynist literary club – who has been shunted aside; whose public role is to be the -unrecognised, almost anonymous – adoring supporter in chief, a woman who has chosen to ignore his serial affairs and must forever “stand by your man”.

It’s a revelation worthy of a hit book.

Joe, the man she stands by certainly is a shit. He humiliates her publicly (snidely noting to one group that “my wife doesn’t write”); he’s a dismissive father (possibly threatened by his son’s literary talents) and is really only focused on himself.
But the truths of the tale are far deeper than the clichés of “self obsessed shit marries long suffering wife”. They go to the heart of identity and our sense of self…the real truth of who we really are, who we’re acknowledged to be and how much of ourselves we need to keep private.

As Joan herself observes to Nathaniel, “I am much more interesting than you think”. The only further ‘reveal’ she’s prepared to acknowledge publicly, aggrieved by her husband’s grovelling praise of her supportive role, is her enigmatic comment to her Nobel host that she’s “a kingmaker”.

For really, despite the (public) sense that she’s been hard done by, she’s (privately) been able to find genuine artistic fulfillment and private self worth in ways that remain forever closed to public consumption.

The story cleverly fools us into thinking we’ve figured her out, but its real ‘reveal’ is one of those that delivers that satisfactory “aha!” to drive us into reconsidering all that’s gone before.

A second or third viewing is definitely called for.

 

THE WIFE. Dir: Bjorn Runge. With: Glenn Close, Christian Slater, Jonathan Pryce, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke. Written by: Jane Anderson (screenplay); Meg Wolitzer(novel). Cinematographer: Ulf Brantas. Composer: Jocelyn Pook