One Great Scene: A STAR IS BORN
In this series of articles, we’re going to do a deep-dive on one knockout scene from a great movie. Today’s movie is A STAR IS BORN. The scene is when Jackson (Bradley Cooper) and Bobby (Sam Elliott) fight. Here’s a link to the scene as a refresher (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUedOhkjlX4). The scene is about establishing the depths of Bradley Cooper’s drinking problem.
At this point in the film, the interpretation that Sam Elliott might be a classic problematic family member/stage-manager is still open. So, when Jackson punches Bobby, at first, we as the audience think he could be right. The accusation, that Bobby sold the ranch, fits into the archetype of the manipulative family member/stage-manager.
But Bobby quickly subverts that expectation. He explains that their father’s grave washed away in a storm, his grave is gone, and he’d already told Jackson, but he doesn’t remember because he was drunk when he told him.
If anything, Bobby goes on to explain that Jackson’s drinking problems might come from their father. He also exposes the unreasonable expectation on Jackson’s part that Bobby is supposed to take care of the ranch AND take care of Jackson.
Jackson, nonetheless, doesn’t back down and criticizes Bobby’s artistic ability, arguing that he has nothing to say as a musician. Bobby quits. The scene cleverly subverts audience expectations.
In music biopic stories, the problematic family member who holds undue sway on the lead singer and steers them in the wrong direction for their own self-interest is a familiar “type.” It’s also familiar from real-life stories of singers and musicians.
Jackson is the protagonist. The audience expectation is for him to be right. And he’s not. He’s basically just being a jerk in the scene. His cruelty to his brother creates an imbalance that the audience then needs a cathartic resolution to.
It’s a strong setup scene for that reason (in the later payoff scene, Jackson acknowledges how much he idolized Bobby, giving the audience a cathartic release from the injustice of the earlier sequence).
And as with other scenes we’ve covered in this series, the casting is vital. Bobby accuses Jackson of stealing his voice. Sam Elliott has a highly distinctive deep voice, which Bradley Cooper arguably does “steal” to portray his character in the film.
Bradley Cooper, throughout his career, has played a lot of more traditional heroes, so seeing him behave this way is jarring. Sam Elliott tears up at one point in the scene, something he hasn’t done too much of in previous roles. The actors effectively subvert their screen personas in the scene, and the writing helps them do it.
Is this a great scene to you? Let us know in the comments below.