I don’t like rock concerts. They’re loud, they’re uncomfortable, and God help you if you need the bathroom.
But films about rock concerts — that’s another story entirely; and we are lucky enough to have, not one, but two in the theaters right now: “A Star is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born,” with himself as the aging rock star and Lady Gaga as the rising talent, is the fourth telling of the same basic plot line. Luckily, I missed all the others, and so am able to deliver you a verdict as fresh as this film.
Cooper plays a completely believable rock/country-music star. The film opens in the middle of a frenzied finale, played at top volume by Cooper with real-life band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and sung quite well by Cooper. This shows us what stardom is supposed to mean.
Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, meets and falls for young undiscovered songwriter Ally, played by Lady Gaga. She lives with her dad, a limo driver, and makes money waitressing — but really, she lives for the few moments each week when she can sing at an after-hours cross-dressing club where she is the only actually female performer.
This is where Maine meets her, stumbling in in search of more booze.
Maine falls hard for Ally. He loves her singing, her amazing stage presence, and her looks — even her nose, which everyone else has convinced her is too big.
Maine is clearly impressed by her song-writing chops as well, because he takes up the song she is writing, that first night, and has it orchestrated and ready for his own band to play, by the next time they’re together.
In a sequence that would put Cinderella’s fairy godmother to shame, we see a car arrive at Ally’s home, with a driver who insists he can’t leave without her because Maine wants her to attend his next show.
She finally agrees, whereupon she is not merely whisked off in a limo, but onto a private jet, drinking champagne; onto a stage where she is issued an all-access pass by people with clipboards saying “Oh, good, you’re here, Ally, he’s been asking for you” — and suddenly we are watching a concert from the wings, almost part of the show ourselves.
Maine has finished Ally’s half-composed ditty and invited her on stage to sing it with him and the band. This is where I had my biggest “hiccup” — because if Maine ever asked Ally for permission to work on her song, I never heard it. It was her creation, not his, and any song-writer should have understood that. As the friend I saw this with said, “That was not cool.”
But movie-Ally seems to have no problem with this, or many of the things that follow.
The rest of the film is all very well done, and worth the price of a ticket — but for me, the spell was broken.
By contrast, there are some problems with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but none of them bothered me…probably because I would forgive almost anything to hear once again the irresistible upbeat swagger of the music of Queen.
Even if you’ve never heard of the band, chances are you have stamped your feet, clapped, and sung the lyrics “We will, we will rock you,” of one of their anthem hits.
Certainly, the film downplays the rampant bisexuality of Queen’s lead singer and songwriter Freddie Mercury. There is also no way of duplicating his charisma. Rami Malek does an incredible job — but it’s an impossible task.
Still, it’s worth watching the film if only for the riveting final minutes, from the band’s 21-minute set for 1985’s Live Aid (a concert involving virtually every rock band then around, raising hundreds of millions via satellite hookup around the world for victims of African famine).
Watching that footage — watching Mercury doing pitch-perfect call and response with a crowd of more than 70,000 fans at Wembley soccer stadium — you realize he had every one of those 70,000 in the palm of his hand.
Even today, and even if the visuals are of Rami Malek instead, that is a mesmerizing, electrifying, awe-inspiring achievement of the human spirit. It actually makes me wish I’d gone to more rock concerts.
Maybe I’ll get to one or two more before time runs out. If not, there’s always the movies.