A cynical singer-songwriter whose popularity is on the decline crosses paths with a struggling bundle of talent. Sparks fly, and lives change.
A brazen, wonderfully acted roller-coaster for the ages. Recommended.
A Star is Born is actor Bradley Cooper’s (American Hustle, 2013) directorial debut, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen this story. The film is a remake of director William Augustus Wellman’s 1937 original of the same name, which before the latest iteration has already witnessed two retellings—one in 1954, and one in 1976. To put it plainly, every version of Wellman’s film is about the same two things: the magic of music, and enduring love. Thanks to an emotional core that is both robust and astonishingly accurate for today’s times, however, it becomes quite evident by the end of the film that Cooper’s version might just be the best version of the three.
[Bradley Cooper] delivers a performance brimming with enough emotional truth to make it possibly his best as an actor yet.
Then again, this emotional authenticity exists solely because of the excellent performances by Cooper, who also doubles as one of the film’s leads, and Lady Gaga (FX’s American Horror Story). The two share chemistry so organic you’re left with no choice but to float along. Recycled as this may be, the excellent writing by the trio of Cooper, Will Fetters (The Lucky One), and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) sure helps. Creating a narrative that is painfully aware of what it means to wrestle with your inner demons, the writers also acknowledge that with every significant emotional pitfall, there will also be a modicum of comfort to find every now and then. If this isn’t an apt metaphor for the horrors of mental illness in 2018, I don’t know what is.
It’s not entirely surprising, but Cooper is in fantastic form in the film. He delivers a performance brimming with enough emotional truth to make it possibly his best as an actor yet. He embodies the rugged-rockstar persona, with his character being risky enough to tilt right into the rabbit hole of sleaze. What we see instead is a charming, good-natured bloke in a world of pain. Lady Gaga isn’t too bad herself and shines in moments where she’s as Gaga as she can be, but her enactment doesn’t match up—the lack of nuance and heft is quite apparent. Despite those pitfalls, however, viewers will still be left rooting for, and often be heartbroken with her.
The Hangover of a Bad Romance
(L-R) Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper star in Cooper's directorial debut A Star is Born, a Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Pictures release.
Together, however, they infuse the movie with such sincerity, it’s almost like a breath of fresh air. As over-the-top as it possibly can be, there’s a lot of effort on the part of the makers to cut down on anything that might turn the narrative remotely farcical. Admittedly, the makers play the dwindling-rockstar trope to the gallery, but there’s a lot more to Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper) than meets the eye. Throughout the film’s minor pitfalls, it’s his relationship with Ally that continues to ring true throughout its runtime. There’s a scene in which Jack calls out to Ally, who turns back only to watch him say he just wanted to take another look at her. It’s not a groundbreaking moment by any means, but it’s these little things that matter the most.
The film is at its strongest when it shows Jack and Ally’s love.
As focused as it might be on pulling off a duet, A Star is Born is, interestingly, quite the ensemble piece. Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay, among others, are quite the scene-stealers. Elliott as Jack’s manager delivers an emotionally resonant performance, while Clay is touching and funny as Ally’s father, lighting up the screen every time he’s in the film. As strong as it is in direction, character development, and performances, it does, however, feel—in quite a few places—that the movie may just have missed a lot of opportunities to be anything more than just a romance. The film is at its strongest when it shows Jack and Ally’s love, but does a really shoddy job when it comes to putting forth the transient nature of the music business, and doesn’t really attempt to explore other factors its leads hint at through their traits.
Even so, A Star is Born is worth seeing on the big screen twice—once for the music alone, and once for Cooper and Gaga’s commendable work. The film is searingly personal, intimate in its storytelling, and reaches out to its audience as honestly as it possibly can. Should it have been as well rounded and had it not indulged in the excesses of melodrama, the film would be a whole lot more—for now, however, it’s safe to slot it strictly into the romance genre. But that’s fine too, because, faults aside, it manages to be a mostly satisfying, beautiful, and heartbreaking insight into a complex relationship between two people and their respective talents.
Driven by moving performances, a terrific score, and excellent direction, Cooper’s reiteration of A Star is Born might just be the best version yet. Why? Just because it makes you hopelessly believe in the film and the people that live in it.