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And the Oscar goes to … Sam Elliott?!?!? (an A Star Is Born review)

It’s all about the supporting actor…

I happened to check in on Facebook at the movie theater when I went to see the new remake of A Star Is Born and I got an interesting comment from a friend of my wife’s that it “doesn’t seem your type of movie.” I found that funny. If you really know me, you might guess that this is exactly my type of movie. For one thing… it’s a movie… and I’ll watch pretty much any movie. But that said, we’re definitely moving into Oscar season now, and this movie had Oscar bait all over it.

And I love Oscar bait.

And that’s what this was… in the best possible way. It was a heavy, melodramatic love story with two strong leads who were acting their asses off. It was touching. It was poignant. I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. This is a movie made for one person, and his name is Oscar. The only thing that could have made this more Oscar bait is if it had been a biopic. Though honestly, as the fourth version of this story (three of which are good), in a lot of ways, it might as well have been a biopic. And it turns out I really like Oscar bait movies. In fact, I’m far more likely to go see them than Stephanie is. But this was SO baity that she was looking forward to it too. I don’t think she was disappointed.

This is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, and he kind of knocks it out of the park while also serving as the male lead. I don’t think he’ll be getting a nomination for acting on this one… and if he does, he won’t be winning. It’s not the right kind of role. For one he’s directing (and doing a great job of it, I don’t know that he’ll get a nomination for it, but he’ll be in the conversation), but two, even though he’s auspiciously the male lead, he is for all intents and purposes a supporting character for the force of nature that is Ally (Lady Gaga) in this. And frankly, that’s how it should be for this role. It’s their story, yes… but it is very much her story and his job in the film is give her situations to shine in. And she does. She’s essentially the only female character in the film and she carries it. Early front runner for an Oscar nomination. And she deserves it.

The actual supporting cast is very strong as well, despite the fact that they’re all basically playing stock characters. First of all, there’s Andrew Dice Clay — who someone apparently taught to act recently — as Gaga’s father. He was great. The standard character that is Dice disappeared he becomes Lorenzo, a completely believable would-be wise-guy Jersey father that is 100% necessary to the film because he exists to tell you exactly who Ally is and why. Every time he steps on screen and says something, and you compare him to her, you go “yep, I get it.” He’s helped along here by Ramon (Anthony Ramos), Ally’s token gay friend. Ramos does a fine job here, but he doesn’t really have a meaty enough role to be worth it. He’s mostly just a sounding board for Ally and an Exposition Lass (I guess exposition lad, but I’ve gotten so used to referring to that character as Exposition Lass, that it feels weird not to). Next, we have Dave Chappelle who plays one of the best instantiations of the magical negro ever. This is a movie about fame… the struggles of fame… the power of fame… the trial of fame. Chappelle is theoretically there as an old musician friend of Jackson’s (Cooper) named Noodles… but really, he’s mostly there to play Dave Chappelle. His job is to pause the movie and provide the moral in magical negro style — to tell you that fame and life are not the same thing and each can get in the way of the other. In any other movie, from any other actor, this could have derailed the whole thing. Combining this film with Chappelle as the vehicle for that message makes it feel sincere and natural. Because he’s able to feel the concept so fully, and the audience can get away from the honesty of the fact that he’s really talking about himself, It just kind of works.

Finally, there’s Sam Elliott, as Jackson’s much older brother and manager, Bobby. I’m pretty sure that Elliott sat down recently and said to himself “well, fuck… I’m 74. If I’m going to win and Oscar, I guess now is the time” and then he went and out just did the fucking thing… he is GREAT. If you want to learn what “supporting actor” means, that’s him in this role. He is by no means the star of the movie, but this is HIS movie. It ultimately rises and falls on his performance because he is essentially a microcosm of one of the ultimate themes of the movie.

I’m going to more or less do this without spoilers, but to say that, well, this is a remake of a movie from 1937, that has been remade two other times besides that… so really, if you don’t know the story already…. well, get some culture. But the central theme of the film is about the fleeting nature of fame and the way that one person’s career may build on and ultimately eclipse the careers of those that they are connected to. Ally’s star is on the rise, while Jackson’s star is falling. The film is about Ally. Everything that happens with Jackson is about the steps it takes to get her to where she so going. This is pretty clear metatextually as you can kind of see Cooper step back his performance to allow Gaga to shine (and seriously… she does… so brightly). In the same way, you see Clay and Ramos build her up and Chappelle and Elliott do the same Cooper, if only so he can provide a performance for Gaga to build off of. Finally, in what for me was the most poignant scene of the film Bobby and Ally have a moment together where Gaga, the actress, has to step aside to allow Elliott, the actor, space to let Bobby, the character, support Ally, the character. Like I said, it’s very meta… but when you see the movie. It’s all about that scene. And that scene crushes it. Elliott deserves an award for those two minutes alone. `

Anyway, another friend asked if he could only see one movie this week, should it be this one or Venom. This is always impossible for me to answer as a critic. Not every movie is for everyone. If you’re a person who just loves superhero movies, then this is not for you. But that said, if you’re a lover of film, it should absolutely be this one. This will be in the Best Picture conversation.

★★★★¼ (4.25 out of 5 stars)

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