Directed by: – Bradley Cooper
Produced by: – Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Philips, Lynette Howell Taylor
Starring: – Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott
Running time: – 135 minutes
There’s a lot going against this movie going in. The picture of the day is the third remake to a 1937 classic (the other two were released in 1954 and 1976) and knowing the current path of a lot of remakes that have come out in recent times they tend to be a pale imitation of the source material. This current iteration went through a lengthy development hell when pre-production started in 2011. At one point, it was believed that Clint Eastwood was going to direct and Beyoncé was attached as the female lead but couldn’t due to her pregnancy at the time. Other big names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Will Smith, and Tom Cruise, for example, were considered but for one reason or the other, they did not take the project. In 2016, the studio eventually found its leads in Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, the former who is making his directorial debut when he was chosen to direct the project and principal photography eventually started in 2017.
A Star is Born follows Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) a country music star that sells out arena, stadiums etc. and is a hit with the fans and paparazzi alike. Despite his talent, he is going through a serious battle with alcoholism, drug addiction, and lingering health issues and is only kept in check by his support system that takes the form of his manager, who also happens to be his older brother Bobby Maine (Sam Elliot). After a show, he cools down in a bar where he meets a young singer-songwriter named Ally (Lady Gaga) who also works as a waitress. Enamored by her Talents and looks they have a drink together and Jack inquires why she has never considered going on stage. She reveals that she hasn’t pursued it due to her insecurities. The pair form a bond and Jack nurtures her talents by showing her the ropes and putting her in the limelight. As she begins to gain stardom, a romantic relationship ensues. While all this sounds good, the couple’s relationship will ultimately be put to the test as we witness a shift in career trajectories between the pair as Ally is climbing up the ladder and Jack is beginning to falling down a slippery slope as a result of his personal demons. With that established, will this star shine bright or will it fade into the darkness?
- For a first attempt in the director’s chair, Bradley Cooper goes above and beyond to bring a visually striking tale. Cooper like Denzel Washington when he directed Fences, takes a performance-driven storytelling approach to the film but manages to flex his technical nous in film-making. The film’s concert scenes, for example, are aesthetically pleasing and its composition is very unique for the most part as he manages to make it both a grand and intimate affair at the same time. The movie also creates slick shots of the characters in order to keep the movie personal. The film’s use of jump cuts is also noteworthy as they are most effective when they showing the leads at different points in their careers.
- The leads play their character with sincerity and conviction. Bradley Cooper, in probably his best performance to date portrays Jackson as a charming musician who isn’t arrogant and one who doesn’t use his status to take advantage of people which allows the audience to care for him despite the fact he engages in conduct that is self-destructive. The real surprise of the movie for me is Lady Gaga’s performance as Ally. Gaga manages to hold her own against Cooper and play her character as one who is truly shy and reluctant to adjust to the lights, a far cry from her real-life persona that loves to dazzle the audience with over-the-top fashion and sensibilities which makes it more enjoyable to watch Ally go from grassroots to something that is reminiscent of Gaga.
- While the movie revolves around the music industry, its emotional core is founded on the relationship of Ally and Jackson. A movie of this nature needs to thrive off the on-screen chemistry of its leads. Fortunately, Gaga and Cooper deliver on this front massively. The romance feels natural and the relationship feels realistic as the movie foregoes the need to over-dramatize it which makes it easier for the people to get invested in.
- Cooper also manages to draw great performances from the film’s supporting cast. Comedian Andrew Dice Clay turn as Ally taxi-driving father, Lorenzo ends up being a good character that is funny and also supportive in equal fashion. Dave Chappelle takes a break from the stand-up arena and truly show his acting chops as “Noodles’ a retired musician and old friend of Jackson who gives him an important message in the film’s narrative. Anthony Ramos who you may remember from the Hamilton musical and Spike Lee’s reboot of She’s Got to Have It ends up having a small but significant role of Ramon, Ally’s friend who becomes one of her last links to the normal world. Rafi Gavron performance as Rez, Ally’s eventual British manager and producer who slowly indoctrinates her to the industry standards. The stand out supporting player without a doubt is Sam Elliot who plays Jackson’s older brother and reluctant manager who bears the heavy burden of watching his brother Jackson slowly deteriorate to nothing. He doesn’t only show this weariness of this duty from his words but also his actions which heart wrenching to watch at times.
- One aspect of the plot I really enjoy is its rather cynical look at the music industry. Through Ally, we take a peek at how musicians must fight to keep their art and vision pure whilst staving off that they could change into something that isn’t recognizable and disingenuous when corporate interest knocks on the door. The movie could have taken the simple black and white approach and show the horrors of this metamorphosis but it shows the highs and the lows of the climb to the top and it’s an aspect of the plot I really appreciate even though I feel that the movie tiptoes around the topic sometimes. Through Maine’s own personal struggles, we get to see that the music industry isn’t all glamour as we learn that the people who seem untouchable have an expiration date and at the end of the day are just people like us who are damaged and carry a lot of baggage. Watching his war against obscurity whilst keeping his alcoholism, drug addiction, and health issues in check is ultimately painful to watch and like a train wreck you can’t help but look to see how it turns out.
- From Lady Gaga’s powerful rendition of “La Vie en Rose” to the films centerpiece song “Shallows” that features both Cooper and Gaga, “Always Remember Us This Way” and the film’s final song (which I won’t. spoil), the film’s original soundtrack is one that people will be talking about for a very long time as it evokes a range of emotions. Bradley Cooper holds his own as he performs as if he has been doing this for a long time when remarkably he only started singing and playing the guitar a year ago. With that said like his character Jackson, he knows when to take a backseat for Lady Gaga to take control and let it loose as she does the heavy lifting for most of the film’s soundtrack which makes me wish that she did less chart pop songs and more country and soul music.
- It’s extremely difficult to find a lot wrong with this movie, however, it isn’t a perfect picture as there are some editing oddities exist. We know the movie takes place over the course of a few years but the way the film is cut, it doesn’t really feel like that and the film doesn’t try to show or at least put some text to indicate that time is passing as the story moves forward.
- It feels like a lot of great material was left on the cutting floor as certain scenes that would have held greater significance within the plot feels abridged in order to meet an acceptable duration for the studio. Despite the brevity of these moments, they are still great and powerful scenes in their own right.
A Star is Born is a gripping romantic drama that will pull a range of emotions out of its audience thanks to its strong performances from Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and the film’s supporting cast. The film’s original soundtrack is mesmerizing and memorable and I wouldn’t be surprised if the film makes a decent haul during the award season. Definitely one of the best films of the year.