A Star Is Born (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
A Star is Born is one of the year’s most anticipated films and has Oscar potential all over it.
A Star is Born, true to its title, reinvents two established careers of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga and succeeds in redefining their futures.
The music is fantastic. The sound design stunning. The cinematography breathtaking. The performances pitch perfect. So, so much to love here.
Wears its heart too much on its sleeve. The second half of the film is pivotal, but weaker, and telegraphs much of what ultimately occurs.
Hard to follow - not in the sense of understanding the movie, but understanding where in a timeline any of this fits together. These are details that matter and somehow Cooper overlooks them.
Anyone who has seen one of the previous iterations of this story, will perhaps be frustrated that, plot-wise, A Star is Born feels dated, even if Cooper and his team try to modernize the message and presentation.
In the opening moments, Bradley Cooper quickly disappears before our eyes. Whether it’s the oily, shoulder-length rock-star hair, the disorienting camera work which introduces him to us, or the guttural, choking, sandpaper-soft voice he speaks with, his performance as Jackson Maine may be his most remarkable achievement to date.
Cooper’s blood, sweat, and tears, and immense talents are on full display in his directorial debut, A Star is Born, detailing Maine’s fortuitous, chance meeting with a young singer named Ally (Lady Gaga), changing both of their lives forever.
Serving as the fourth filmed version of this story, Cooper’s screenplay, co-written with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, may appear to be reminiscent of the Kris Kristofferson/Barbra Streisand film from 1978, but Cooper and his team have set forth a modernized take on a well-worn tale, with nods and winks to the previous versions of this rags-to-riches story.
This time (and to some people’s frustration, it should be noted), Maine’s character lies at the center of the film, with Cooper slipping into the alcohol-stained and pill-filled body of an arena-ready country-rock star. Maine’s songs feel familiar and vintage, waxing poetic, with melancholy dripping off of every line. He drinks booze like water and after yet another show, in yet another town, he has his driver (Greg Grunberg) pull over and stop at the first bar he sees.
Not realizing that he has stumbled into a drag bar, Maine becomes the last person to realize a major celebrity just walked in. By chance, a former employee of the bar, Ally, takes the stage and leaves Maine speechless with a flawless cabaret-style rendition of Edith Piaf’s iconic “La vie en rose.”
And then, we are off – Maine is brought back to meet Ally. She is stunned but goes along with things, and Maine won’t let her out of his sight. He learns she is a songwriter, harshly rejected for superficial reasons in the past, spinning her wheels while working in a restaurant and performing whenever she can.
Maine falls immediately. Ally is smitten as well, but it isn’t until Maine arranges for her to join him on stage, in a hastily composed arrangement of a song she sang for him in a parking lot, that a connection is truly made.
Multiple things are in play with Cooper’s film. We have terrific music, co-written by Gaga, Cooper, and a host of Nashville songwriters and pop/rock producers, including longtime Gaga collaborator Mark Ronson. We also have tremendous performances – both musical and spoken from both actors, Gaga understated and every bit as convincing and genuine as we could have hoped in her first starring role.
The supporting cast all drift in and out, with Sam Elliott maximizing, quite frankly, too little screen time as Maine’s older brother, Bobby, less a sibling and more a roadie and support system for the singer to take for granted while on tour. Dave Chappelle arrives late in the film as an old friend, reaching out to Maine when the singer publicly reaches rock bottom, and Andrew Dice Clay is a great surprise as Ally’s celebrity-obsessed father, who simply wants her to realize her dreams more for herself than anyone else.
The cinematography from Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique is dazzling, mixing in a crisp, clean, A-list look with a gritty, swirling, dazed, grainy look and feel. The visuals within A Star is Born are brilliantly put together, and the orientation from scene to scene is as much of a character as anybody we meet or encounter on screen.
In retrospect, I fell hard for A Star is Born and even in my enthusiasm, however, the film has some notable imperfections, mostly in the second half.
Cooper’s timeline is hard (impossible?) to follow. For a movie that runs 135 minutes, it may seem silly to claim this all moves too fast, but at times we feel like we are careening on a rudderless ship. As Ally has doors opened and fame starts to find her as a pop star, we have no sense of when these events have occurred – be it weeks, months, years, even days or hours.
Perhaps, Cooper opted for this approach because his character is living in a world with very minimal space and time. He goes from city to city, gig to gig, town to town, and time is almost immaterial. I suppose it makes sense that he gets caught up in the whirlwind of Ally’s fame and success. For the rest of us, we are simply trying to figure out when all of this would have happened.
Additionally, in the film’s second half, things are telegraphed and it becomes a little too obvious where all this is going. With that said, Cooper wrings every last bit of emotion from us, while Gaga brings out the waterworks in a couple of major moments, and one show-stopping ballad near the film’s end.
Overall, A Star is Born soars on the chemistry of its lead performances, as we genuinely believe and appreciate Jackson and Ally’s love for one another. Improbable though it might seem; that passion, their connection, the music they create makes all the sense in the world. Cooper and Gaga are brilliant together and this movie is going to resonate with lots and lots of people because of it.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Willam Belli, D.J. ‘Shangela’ Pierce, Greg Grunberg, Alec Baldwin, Eddie Griffin, Brandi Carlile, Halsey.
Director: Bradley Cooper
Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
• Based on the 1937 film “A Star is Born” by William Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell (screenplay); William Wellman and Robert Carson (story).
• Based on the 1954 film “A Star is Born” by Moss Hart.
• Based on the 1976 film “A Star is Born” by John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Frank Pierson
Release Date: October 5, 2018