With a Texarkana connection, "A Star is Born" opened this past Friday at movie theaters across the country, and a Texarkana native found his way to the big screen.
Starring pop guru Lady Gaga as Ally, a talented but struggling singer who longs to make it big with her songs and her own unique look, and Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, the gritty, hard-drinking rock singer who takes her under his wing, "A Star is Born" retells a familiar tale in a perceptive, touching and resolutely heartfelt manner. As a directorial debut for Cooper, it's assured, powerful stuff.
Along the way in this fourth version of "A Star is Born," Texarkana moviegoers get to see Benjamin Rice, a Texarkana native and current producer-engineer in Los Angeles, up on the big screen in a bit role as, as one might suspect, a music studio worker.
The stellar soundtrack, which Rice worked on with Gaga and Cooper, blossoms through the movie, particularly the first half, with introspective, gorgeous songs like "Shallow" and more upbeat, rousing numbers. Expect that music to enjoy some awards chatter down the road. In a way, "A Star is Born" works like a musical with those songs as keys to understanding these characters, their desires and their hopes.
However, the film shines with many strengths beyond merely the music. It most often rises above the melodrama of tumultuous love churning inside the fame machine when the naturalness of the performers takes over and the plot centers on the genuine connections between these two singers, who are essentially artists with voices and lyrics, at least when we first meet them.
Gaga flashes a natural, inviting acting talent as Ally and, despite some missteps in the script's characterization, makes a compelling portrait of a singer coming into her own, growing comfortable with her talents and ambition, finding a way to express all she wants.
Cooper is forever fantastic from film to film, but here he disappears into one of his best roles, which allows him room to explore the dark side of an artist who's spiralling downward.
And in his direction, Cooper captures both the roaring energy of music and those quiet moments after the rock-and-roll fades. It's in a few of those quiet moments, such as a simple, flirty conversation scene between Ally and Jackson in a convenience store parking lot, where the movie feels positively magical. The intimacy between Ally and Jackson feels earned—at first.
But there are nagging issues as the film evolves into its latter half, and most of those center on the script, which eventually hooks most of its drive on Jackson's devastating dependency issues.
Unfortunately, the Jackson Maine trainwreck eclipses Ally's character development and all that was interesting in her dynamic with him. She rises, he falls—this narrative arc was too simplistically handled and worked against what made their pairing so compelling.
When Ally becomes a star, she does so stylized as a pop diva, but when we first meet her she's crafting heartfelt, deeper lyrics and, like Jackson, seems to have an affection for what's genuine. Her sudden, meteoric rise to fame feels odd, in this respect, and prompts questions about why she welcomes fame in this way.
This apparent inconsistency remains insufficiently explored, and it's hard to know what to make of Maine's attitude towards her as she blooms into stardom.
A few plot jumps also felt like narrative hiccups, along with the muddled characterization. Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott and, of all people, Andrew Dice Clay (as Ally's proud father) all make their screen time memorable. And visually, Cooper crafts a few gorgeous, perfect images in here.
Despite the late-stage missteps, "A Star is Born" remains a compelling portrait of the power of one's art and of one's love. An overall excellent flick, it's a definite Oscars season contender, Texarkana connection included.