In 1999, Mark and Jonathan Schumann started writing film reviews for Hersam Acorn in the column, Take Two, a father-and-son go to the movies. This week Jonathan, who now lives in New York City, joins his dad to consider the new film, A Star Is Born.
Magical, memorable and meaningful
By Mark Schumann
What a wonderful surprise.
I was skeptical what Bradley Cooper could do with A Star Is Born to justify one more movie about the conflicting professional and personal paths of two show business stars.
But the crafty and creative Cooper — as director, co-writer and star — makes this familiar story feel remarkably fresh by shifting its focus from the star-on-the-rise to the star-on-decline. This subtle but significant change gives the moviemaker the chance to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance as well as introduce the fabulous Lady Gaga in her own award-calibre portrayal.
In past versions, especially the 1954 interpretation starring Judy Garland and the 1976 rendition with Barbra Streisand, the camera focused on a young woman’s aspirations to succeed in show business, the challenges she confronts with the man she grows to love, and the friction they face when his star begins to slide.
For 2018, Cooper bravely places the male lead at the center of the film, using the change to explore how a man who once succeeded could suddenly fail. The shift works for the actor and the film. As Cooper reveals the layers of the character, he balances the dynamics between the leads rather than placing one in the background. And, in her movie debut, Lady Gaga refuses to be influenced by memories of Garland or Streisand. The stage and music diva emerges as a film actress determined to make this character her own.
Any chance to see a beautifully crafted film, so well written, cast and directed, is well worth a trip to the theater. See it. Soon.
A wow from start to finish
By Jonathan Schumann
It’s hard not to go over the top in praising A Star is Born. I’ll do my best not to go too far, but you may as well buckle up for some hyperbole. In telling the story of a troubled, aging musician who finds love and salvation in an up-and-coming talent, director and star Bradley Cooper manages to make something that feels so raw and alive but also decidedly old-fashioned and cinematic.
It’s such a breath of fresh air to see a big studio blockbuster not shy away from romance and melodrama and offer some genuine thrills. Given the film’s DNA — it’s a story that’s been told so many times — I guess it’s not a surprise. The surprise then is Cooper’s ability to make this story feel new — and not at all beholden to earlier interpretations. That’s a true accomplishment.
And then there’s the Lady Gaga of it all. It’s not a surprise that she over delivers in the film’s musical numbers — her voice is as rich and sure-footed as ever. As a performer who relies so heavily on artifice as part of her offering, her naturalistic performance here catches you off guard in the best way possible. I knew she had the confidence to try this, but I didn’t know she could deliver. It’s a “wow” from start to finish.
Want more movie? Here are a couple of video picks inspired by A Star Is Born:
Mark, A Star Is Born, 1954: As magical as the new version may be, few movie moments are as magical as when Judy Garland sings The Man Who Got Away in a classic film that celebrates the heyday of Hollywood.
Jonathan, Moonstruck, 1987: The last time a pop icon surprised us with a meaningful screen performance was when Cher stole our hearts in this charming romantic comedy and won an Oscar as Best Actress.
A Star Is Born is rated R for “language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.” The film runs 2 hours, 15 minutes. 5 Popcorn Buckets.
Bradley Cooper: He likes to talk about his movie
By Mark Schumann
“I always wanted to be a director,” Bradley Cooper admits, as he begins a question-and-answer session after an early screening of his labor of love, A Star Is Born.
“I wanted the chance to explore the different dimensions of this story, no matter how many times it has been filmed before. And, thank goodness, Warner Brothers gave me the chance.”
Now, with the film’s opening, Cooper finds himself in the rare position to potentially land Oscar nominations in the acting, writing and directing categories for the same film. And that’s a feat only accomplished by Warren Beatty (for Heaven Can Wait and Reds) and Orson Welles (for Citizen Kane).
“I was fascinated with the character originally named Norman, now renamed Jackson. And, unlike other versions, which I love, I wanted this movie to tell us more about this man, to explore his backstory, his family, the trauma he experienced as a child, why he wanted to make music, and why, ultimately, he cemented his own path of self-destruction.”
To tell this story, Cooper learned how to play the piano, sing, play the guitar, and write music.
“I felt there was one fluid path to these characters, and only one way to tell this story. And so, as I wrote the film, I kept in mind what I wanted to know about these people. Then, as we started to work on the production, I looked for people I could trust to come on this journey to make this movie.”
Cooper chuckles about his studies with a vocal coach, to learn how to properly breathe, as well as his memories of working with great directors, who shared with him how to tell a story on film.
“From J.J. Abrams, who directed Alias on television, I learned how to use the camera different ways to tell a story. From David O. Russell, who took me under his wing in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, I learned the subtleties of creating characters and relationships on film. And, from Clint Eastwood, when we did American Sniper, I learned all about the flow that film can create.”
“I believe in truth. And I promised the actors I would search for truth. And, if I ever caught them acting, I would stop the camera. And I never did. Together we created a truthful environment to shoot this film.”
And Cooper shot the film in record time. After working on the film for more than four years, he needed only 42 days before the cameras.
“I had it all figured out in my mind before we started to shoot. And the studio gave me incredible freedom, only challenging, at one point, a key moment near the end they weren’t sure they could believe. And, when I showed them the scenes leading to that moment, they were fine, and they let me make my movie.”
And now, with the movie done, Cooper can take a breath.
“Yes, it’s a relief, to give the film to the audience. And I hope people are as moved as I am, by the way the film portrays how the world can change, how life can be hard, how people can change, how two people can love each other, and how that still may not be enough.”
Thank you, Bradley Cooper. You have made a lovely film.