Friday, October 12, 2018

the incredible shrinking movie

"Wow!," I thought to myself after the first few minutes of the movie.

This is too good to be true.

My expectations had been high, elevated even more so by the non-stop hype that started mid-summer, but this was more than I had anticipated.

The opening scene of the movie took its time introducing one of its major characters and the situation in question. "Wow," indeed. Exposition! Actual exposition, a quality that has all but disappeared from films in this age of immediate gratification. The second scene, adding another character and then a few others, was more of the same. The people on screen actually talked, and for long stretches, revealing tiny details about themselves.

The talk was small and often awkward, real-sounding.

So far, about 15 minutes have gone by, maybe 20 - and, by current standards, "nothing happened." Just people talking and relating. I was amazed that the filmmaker got away with this. There was none of the usual bulldozing or pandering to impatient modern audiences. Good.

The third scene was longer than the two previous ones, much longer. The self-revealing talk continued. Hmmm. OK, I get the point. Let's move on. I was becoming one of those aforementioned impatient moviegoers. The scene continued. It simply would not stop. I was getting annoyed. I checked my wristwatch. We're a half hour into the movie and the two lead characters are still flirting and sizing up each other. Get a room already.

Exposition is all well and good but this is just too much. Help!

The film continued for another hour - and so did the repetition. The various settings and backdrops would change but the dialogue didn't. The same conversation was repeated over and over and over again. I came to the realization that the two characters had nothing more - or new - to say.

But they continued talking and repeating themselves nevertheless.

Ad infinitum.

By this point, it occurred to me that, while both were rather colorful characters, neither one was necessarily interesting. It's been posited that all drunks are dull and that's true here, what with the lead male character essentially playing one long drunk scene, mumbling and slurring words.

Very one-note.

The lead female character is more fully developed (but just barely) because she serves, alternately, as his protégé, victim and enabler.

I came to the rude awakening that I could care less about either of them.

So, a film that originally loomed large in my head was quickly shrinking. 

As music is crucial to the plot, there are songs interspersed throughout, regularly interrupting the navel-gazing dialogue. The performances of them are predictably loud. Why whisper a lyric when one can shout it out?

I went into "A Star Is Born" with high anticipation. After all, the reviews have been uniformly rhapsodic, except for The New Yorker's heroic Anthony Lane. Plus, there's been all this jumpy, overheated advance "Oscar buzz" which, frankly, means little to me. So why did I mention it?

Yes, I went in enthusiastically but, two-hours-and-fifteen minutes later, I had fully morphed into a miserable grump. I should have learned by now that it is unwise and unfair to go into a movie - any movie - with too-high expectations. Or just plain high expectations. And when the inevitable letdown sets in, who's exactly at fault - the movie or the moviegoer?

Note in Passing: The material for "A Star Is Born" has been the source of no fewer than five - count 'em - five films, starting with "What Price Hollywood?" in 1932. The others, all titled "A Star Is Born," were released in 1934, 1954, 1978 and 2018. (George Cukor directed both the original 1932 film and the 1954 Judy Garland remake.) Perhaps someone can explain exactly why Hollywood finds the basic plotline so irresistible.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.


~Grant Williams and his pet cat in "The Incredible Shrinking Man"
~photography: Universal-International 1957© 


shelly said...

Finally! I too was so looking forward to this movie, mostly because of the stars. But it was incredibly disappointing. Bradley Cooper is surprisingly boring and one-note and not comparable in any way to James Mason whose charm and humor made his character sympathetic. You realize what a talented and experienced actor Judy Garland was -- Lady Gaga can sing but not act. I'm not even sure the story holds up anymore in the current climate. The only plus is that I won't have to see the trailer anymore when I go to the movies, although the trailer is better than the movie.

mike schlesinger said...

Doomed romance is always appealing to a certain audience, from ROMEO & JULIET to CASABLANCA to WEST SIDE STORY to LOVE STORY. Can't fight it.

Also important to remember that the story gets re-invented with with each remake except the first. The '54 turned it into a musical; the '76 switched them from actors to pop stars, and this version apparently changes it from rock to country.

And in fairness, it's been 42 years since Babs' version, so millennials likely are coming to this with no idea of the plot.

joe baltake said...

True, Mike. The young woman sitting behind us gasped, "Is he going to commit suicide?!"

mike schlesinger said...

When I get around to seeing it, I think I'll yell at the people standing in line, "He kills himself at the end!" and see how many people get pissed off. :-D

Vanessa said...

Joe & Mike- I was surprised that Cooper would keep in the suicide. I thought for sure that the new version would go for a happy ending.

joe baltake said...

Vanessa- I thought the same thing. Yes, it was a surprise that the suicide was retained, but it was no surprise that a "happy ending" was tacked on nonetheless. That last scene in the movie (spoiler alert: a flashback to happier times) is an example of the latest bad trend in Hollywood moviemaking. Can't send the masses out feeling depressed. -J

Brian Lucas said...

That "epilogue" ending bugged me too. Very cowardly. A star is born. And a star cannot really die. No way!

mike schlesinger said...

Remember the gawdawful 1995 remake of THE SCARLET LETTER, which ended with Hester and Rev. Dimmesdale happily riding off into the sunset together? So, yeah, big props to Cooper for not taking the easy way out.

Still waiting for that ROMEO & JULIET remake where they're rescued in the nick of time.

Alex said...

Terrific column, Joe. Unique way to review a film. I relate, having suffered from too many "letdowns" due to my eagerness to see a movie that I have been anticipating with panting devotion.

A.N. said...

This article certainly shows your skills as a writer. We need more passionate writers who are not afraid to express what they believe. At all times, go after
your heart!

Seamaster said...

Great article!

Paul Margulies said...

I think the trend is more of not knowing when to end the film. This one ended 5 minutes after the story was over.

I call it the Peter Jackson Syndrome, with his 27 endings (or so it felt) to his last Lord of the Rings film.

Joey said...

oh well. what can I say. I really liked it. I liked the music, I like all of the performers in particular Cooper and Elliott and thought the love story repeated once again remained intact and full of life. Gaga wasn't Oscar worthy but I thought it was good natural performance. I've always found Garland's version too long and I'm sure I'll get crucified for saying that but Judy is really good in that film in the same way Judy was always good in all of her films. I liked this new versions take on giving into the business and losing your voice by becoming something you are not. I found it to be a real old fashioned Hollywood entertainment.
But I must say Joe once again I enjoyed every word you wrote. Big time.

joe baltake said...

Joe- As a proud contrarian, I am clearly in the minority on "Star." I'd say that I am a majority of one but my wife had the same exact reaction to the film. Which surprised me. -J