Film and drama

Screen Themes: A Star is Born vs Sorry to Bother You

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a movie that is guaranteed Oscar bait and another that you probably haven't seen, but definitely should.

A Star is Born

Directed by Bradley Cooper (2018)

There is a fair chance that many readers of this column would have seen a version of A Star is Born. The first iteration was released back in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. It was remade for the first time in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, then again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. For the record, I have seen none of these versions and have no immediate plans to do so.

This is not because A Star is Born is a bad movie. On the contrary, it is a superb movie, capturing the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, and the fickle path of fame and substance abuse that comes with it. Standing alongside greats of the genre like Almost Famous, Sid and Nancy and High Fidelity, A Star is Born feels like a genuine insight into the lives of real musicians — which is certainly true of one of its stars.

Born Stefani Germanotta, Lady Gaga is note-perfect for the role of Ally, a talented singer who lacks confidence but is shot to fame following a chance meeting with megastar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). Her insecurity is driven by a combination of body issues and the loving but clueless support of father Lorenzo, played with surprising restraint by Andrew Dice Clay.

Bradley Cooper, on the other hand, is not a musician and is best known for being exceptionally good looking. Sure, he’s starred in some good to great movies like American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook, but he’s not a rock star. Except that he is. From the opening scene of Jackson Maine performing Black Eyes on stage after downing a handful of pills, Cooper is magnetic. Writing and performing all of his songs himself, Cooper is a revelation; immediately convincing as a tortured artist destined for oblivion, driven by his own bad habits and rejection of all things he perceives to be commercial.

While there aren’t really any surprises in the plot of A Star is Born, it’s the journey to the inevitable destination that is so rewarding. You genuinely care about what happens to these characters, and Cooper (as director) is able to wring every emotion from the somewhat predictable story.

Sorry to Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley (2018)

While travelling recently, I had the good fortune to catch a screening of Sorry to Bother You. I say fortune, because the movie was released back in July in the U.S. but, due to concern about its commercial appeal, it looked like an Australian theatrical release wasn’t on the cards. Fortunately, distributor Universal decided on a limited release in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth on 29 November — I assume they’ll eventually update their terrible website with more details.  

Set in an alternate universe version of America where the economy is collapsing, Sorry to Bother You tells the story of Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an unsuccessful telemarketer who discovers the secret of selling when he finds his “White voice”. Provided by Arrested Development’s David Cross, this White voice quickly elevates Cash to the role of “Power Caller”, making million dollar deals with multi-nationals and foreign governments — but what is Cash really selling?

Covering themes including racism, slavery, gender politics, income disparity, genetic manipulation and consumer culture, Sorry to Bother You is far from an easy watch. Director Boots Riley seems to delight in scenes that make viewers wildly uncomfortably, notably the excruciating scene where a bunch of White billionaires demand that Cash rap for their entertainment. Fortunately, Sorry to Bother You is also hilarious, combining absurdism and biting political commentary into an entirely unique package.

Starring alongside Stansfield is a superb cast including Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), Omari Hardwick (Kick Ass), Terry Crews (The Expendables), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon). To reveal any more of the plot would be an unforgivable spoiler, but suffice to say there is almost no chance that you’ll see another movie like Sorry to Bother You, this year or any other.

The Verdict

Why on Earth have I chosen to compare these two very different movies, I hear you ask…

Both A Star is Born and Sorry to Bother You were directed by first-timers, a remarkable achievement considering the emotional impact of both movies. To date, Sorry to Bother You has made around $17.5 million at the box office, while A Star is Born has sailed past $200 million off the back of glowing reviews and a heavy press schedule — Bradley Cooper has been working his charm hard across breakfast TV and radio shows around the world.

In terms of impact, I feel like I need to re-watch Sorry to Bother You to really understand what’s going on at different levels, as some of the subtextual stuff is pretty dense. By the same token, I’ve got the Star is Born soundtrack on high rotation, but I probably won’t be rushing out to see the movie again. Taking this into account, it’s definitely worth a watch on the big screen if you get a chance.

A Star is Born — 8/10

Sorry to Bother You — 9/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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A Star is Born — definitely a movie that everyone at IA loves.

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