We’ve all heard the hoo-hah over Bradley Cooper‘s A Star Is Born (Warner Bros., 10.5). Movie stars (Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Robert De Niro) love it. The reaction to a 7.18 exhibitor screening in Hollywood was “through the roof,” according to Deadline‘s Pete Hammond. Toronto Film Festival director Cameron Bailey has told Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson that it’s “an absolutely beautiful film…it’s really emotional and works on a gut level.”
And yet there’s a certain hesitation about how and where to screen it. A Star Is Born will debut at the forthcoming Venice Film Festival but out of competition. It’ll also screen at the Toronto Film Festival but not at Telluride, which seems odd for an alleged crowd-pleaser that everyone believes is a lock for a Best Picture nomination.
“This is a calculation,” Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson wrote a couple of days ago. “The studio that consistently avoids wearing its Oscar hopes on its sleeve is refusing to be judged in Venice Competition, and the Lady Gaga starrer is not going to Telluride to be judged by the Oscar pundits.
“Is this a sign of insecurity? More likely, the studio is confident of the film’s mainstream commercial bonafides, but is treading carefully where critics — and Oscars — are concerned.”
What this means, of course, is that films that work on a gut emotional level tend to work better with exhibitors and ticket buyers, but not necessarily so much with critics. Except when it comes to Hollywood Elsewhere. I’m different. Unlike your average dweeby critic, I’ve occasionally succumbed to effective emotional movies. Big-screen heart tugs don’t put me off. If a movie turns the emotional lock, I’m in.
“Movies critics can’t agree on much, but there’s one assumption most of them hold deeply without ever discussing it,” the late Richard Corliss wrote on 11.22.06. “It’s that a film that says life is crap is automatically deeper, better, richer, truer than one that says life can be beautiful.
“That’s a 180 from the prevailing notion in classic Hollywood, where optimism was the cardinal belief, at least on-screen. (It was in the front office that the knives came out.) Most movies, whatever their genre, were romances; they aimed for tears and ended with a kiss. But to serious critics then, and to the mass audience now, sentiment is suspect. Feeling is mushy, girly — for fools. To be soft-hearted is to be soft-headed.
“So critics will see a horror film with extreme violence, or (less frequently) an erotic film with extreme sex, and accept these as genre conventions, whether or not they’re grossed out or aroused. But a movie that tries to make them feel is somehow pandering to their basest or noblest emotions and, as they see it, deserves a spanking from any smart reviewer. These days, nothing is as easy to deride as dead-serious romance.”
From a director-writer friend, posted last April: “I’ve heard from someone who’s seen A Star is Born that Lady Gaga‘s rather plain, un-glamorous features work incredibly well for the mission statement of the title during the first part of the film. You see her transform within the movie. She’s molded, manufactured and launched into a splashy goddess. A degree of My Fair Lady in play.”