Why ‘A Star is born’ is an example of emotional boldness

SPOILERS

Remakes are an obsession now. They have been for quite a few years. I actually feel that someday, there will be two films for every film. May be three. Some films that should never have been made in the first place, are remade. This happens in the West, in Europe and largely in India. I haven’t watched either of the two movies [A star is born (1937) and (1976)] but I knew the storyline, somewhat. May be what motivated me most about this one was Bradley Cooper’s decision to direct, sing and Lady Gaga’s decision to act. What I find repulsive about a lot of remakes nowadays (out of the few I end up watching) is that they clearly seem like marketing decisions. Film Studios make these decisions using their formulaic methods. Add this cast, with this storyline of a former hit movie, add this music composer and we are good to go. It rarely comes from the filmmaker or the actor or from any creative spark whatsoever. It usually is suggested at some meeting by a Marketing person who thinks he/she can put two and two together and create “a super hit film”. That’s all it’s about. A Star is born by Bradley Cooper isn’t a film like that. It’s a film, a story, chosen by a great actor for the big screen. He chose it because he thinks he can offer something fresh. Something only he can offer. Probably the entire reason one should ever make a film at all. Or any piece of art. Or literature. Offer something only you can.

It doesn’t mean you are dissing the old works or that you aren’t in agreement with them. You just think that an existing Classic film can be made with YOUR TAKE. I I repeat once again, I don’t know how far Cooper went from the original. I don’t even care. All I know is that this is a film that is highly relevant in 2018. Commercial music seems to be getting worse by the day, lyricists seem to be on an unending holiday and songs with one phrase repeated 300 times top all the charts. Cooper is saying something about that. Subtly in some areas and blatantly in others. May be I am in agreement with it because I still prefer rock, hard rock, blues, jazz or really any music that comes out of an actual instrument and not a USB drive. (Oops) About 98% of the commercial music that falls on my ears gets disposed out within seconds. Coopers character Jack plays music that “comes from his soul.” The few times that he has to take up commercial gigs, he says “it’s soul crushing”. It’s important to realise that Cooper and his co writer , the great Eric Roth, aren’t antagonising Ally played by Gaga. They also aren’t hiding Jack’s flaws. In fact, his flaws are open wounds for everyone to see. It’s a great way for a writer to say “My characters are fucking real.” Not to go back to my initial remake rant but there’s a lot of “polishing” done by most of the filmmakers going for a remake. They try to brush out the grey areas and make everything black and white. Good and bad. This is where my thought about A Star is born being emotionally bold comes in. What do I mean by emotional boldness? A lot of writers nowadays SKIP difficult scenes and tough moments. They want you to watch only the major” twists and turns”. They ignore the harrowing moments where characters argue lengthily, cry, deal with their emotional issues by talking and sometimes by sharing silences with others. It may be a completely different genre space but I felt this about GDT’s Shape of water. So many things weren’t built up. “Oh, it’s supposed to be understood”. I’m not talking about dumbing down moments and oversimplification. I’m talking about writers and directors facing their tough scenes. Scenes which push the actors and the audience and force them to sit through moments that will not be comfortable. Are we in the comforting business or is this art? Am I going to be truthful to my characters and hence give my audience the most honest experience possible or should I just skip this emotional confrontation and head to some love making or a song / action sequence?

Bradley Cooper spends much of his second and third act doing just the opposite. Every tough scene is faced head on. There are long scenes that involve emotional confrontations and silences. Characters stand by their beliefs and also contradict themselves. It’s like it’s supposed to be. Right? How can your lead characters say things and stick by them for 120 minutes? In reality, isn’t that a rarity? Ally and Jack are two people who love music but may be, in different ways. Jack is the kind of artist who would never “sell his soul to the devil”. He hasn’t gotten into the music industry, gotten a band together only to move on to some crazy ass commercial music that goes against everything he loves and believes in.

Ally, on the other hand, seems like a singer who’s willing to take any route that’s bound to take her higher and into an area that promises more fame and limelight. For this, dumbing down her lyrics to a singular phrase that repeats itself like a bunch of crickets in a damp bush, isn’t a problem to her. Initially, she does express concerns over the increasing focus on her dance moves and on stage performances. But what happens later? She gets sucked in. It’s like a drug that takes her away. With Cooper’s Jack, it’s different. He has his own issues. He is an alcoholic with an illness wearing him down. Then there is the strong emotional burden carried by Jack. His troubled relationship with his brother. His dead father. His hearing illness. Ally’s rise to fame creates problems between her and Jack. At one point she calls him “A jealous fuck“, with part sarcasm. His concerns aren’t about her getting all the fame. His concerns are about her degrading work. Her terribly mundane lyrics, her focus on dancing and performance and decreasing attention to “the soul”. Where is the person who wrote and sang ‘Shallow’? (‘Shallow’ is a beautiful song written by Ally) The song that got her to this pop icon position in the first place. Is Jack to accept that the one song that comes from her soul is only a stepping stone to mundane music and dazzling fame? All these things create an emotional turmoil. Half of the second act and the entire third act deals with this with shear boldness and courage. There might be some people saying “the film could do without 15-20 minutes in the second half”. These are the same people who’ve been spoilt by the “twists and turns” cinema that I wrote about earlier. The kind of cinema that tells you emotions aren’t important. Certainly not difficult ones. Characters dealing with emotional turmoil should be cut short only keeping the “important parts”. Which are the “important parts” and who decides? Bradley Cooper has been a part of indie films as well commercial films. He knows what the mainstream audience is looking for and he certainly knows that slow scenes of emotional confrontations are looked down upon today. But he doesn’t give a fuck. He makes the film the way he wants. His characters are honest and believable. Getting Eric Roth on board to co-write this film is a master stroke. Just shows what kind of a director Cooper is. He clearly wanted this film to have a “Classic touch” that doesn’t go away from the “soul” of the original.

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About Ronak Kamat

Writer, filmmaker, photographer. View all posts by Ronak Kamat

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