The scene comes about a half-hour into Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, after a patient opening section in which country/blues/rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper) stumbles into a neighborhood watering hole after a gig, sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform “La Vie En Rose,” is taken by her voice and her beauty, and takes her out for a drink and some soul-baring afterwards. That whole opening stretch plays like a really great short film – but it’s just the warm-up for their next night together, when he flies her out to the gig and pulls her onstage to perform a song she’s written, and sang for him the night before, which he’s apparently taken the trouble to arrange and teach to his band.
That part’s not exactly credible, but we’re in movie musical territory here, where magic can happen. And it does. “All you gotta do is trust me,” he tells her, and when he brings her out on stage, and then brings her up to the front microphone, it raises the same kind of gooseflesh as the “When Your Mind’s Made Up” scene in Once. The music builds, the spotlight shines between them, her voice swells, and that’s the ballgame; tears were streaming down my face. (I’ve got a soft spot for movies about creative people, I don’t know what else to tell you.)
The rest of the movie can’t top that scene. But Jesus, what could?
The scheduling of Teen Spirit on the same day was one of those happy accidents of festival-going – they make for a fine double-feature, the big studio movie and its scrappy little sister, exploring some of the same well-trod ground: a talented nobody is plucked from obscurity and given a shot at pop stardom, a process that puts her loyalty and idealism to the test. The big break here is the title show, a Pop Idol-style singing competition; the talent is Violet (Elle Fanning), an awkward teen from the Isle of Wright. Fanning is engaging – I’m low-key annoyed that on top of everything else, she can also sing – but the scene stealer here is Zlatko Buric, as the drunken fan who becomes her (surprisingly effective) manager.
Screenwriter/director Joel Edgerton (adapting Garrard Conley’s memoir) deliberately frames the opening minutes of Boy Erased to look like its subject (Lucas Hedges, very good) is going into rehab. But he’s not; his strict Evangelical parents (his dad is a minister, even) are sending him into a 12-day pray-away-the-gay program, and his brief stay is intercut with flashbacks to how he got there. Edgerton’s central visual metaphor is a middlebrow clunker, and the look of his movie too often confuses darkness with depth. But he’s got a good eye for details – the creaking of the springs on a dorm room bunk bed leaps to mind – and a sure hand with actors. Nicole Kidman, as the mother who realizes she has to open her heart, is particularly good – especially coming off Destroyer, further underscoring the breadth of her range.
Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows dresses his usual social drama in the costume of a kidnapping thriller, which raises the stakes a bit, and puts a ticking clock on the resurfacing of long-buried resentments and long-hidden secrets. But he’s not in a hurry, at least not at the beginning, using the arrival of wedding guests, and the subsequent ceremony and reception, to gradually introduce who everyone is and what they are to each other. (It’s not unlike that opening stretch of The Deer Hunter.) Once the teenage daughter of Laura (Penélope Cruz) and Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) is stolen from her bedroom, the tension mounts, and the film becomes a blur of fear, suspicion, and second-guessing. I’ve heard, since Cannes, that this is one of Farhadi’s lesser efforts, but I was held rapt through its entirety. Maybe it’s just that Farhadi at his worst still tops most of his contemporaries at their best.