There is nothing glaringly new about Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” aside from some fresh new faces and a weird affection for F-bombs. It’s a movie that has been done three previous times – in 1937, 1954, and 1976. Collectively those three earlier versions earned a total of 17 Oscar nominations. So Cooper picked a story with a history of Awards attention and by the sounds of it that trend is continuing. Many have already christened Cooper’s directorial debut the greatest thing since sliced bread.
First things first, Cooper shows himself to be a more than capable director. His pacing is good even at 135 minutes. He shows off an undeniably keen eye when shooting the musical numbers. He wastes no time putting together the central relationship and he smartly keeps his focus in the right places. Although you could question the decision to shift that focus in the final third of the movie.
It takes less than 15 minutes for the two lead characters to meet. Cooper’s Jackson Maine is a bonafide star selling out venues across the country. Packed in with his years of stardom is his unshakable alcohol and drug abuse. After a big show and fresh out of booze, Jackson stumbles into a bar on drag night looking for a drink. Singing that evening is Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress and aspiring yet insecure singer/songwriter. After one verse of “La Vie en rose” Jackson is hooked and as the title suggests a star is born.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the sharp chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. The movie’s first half is its strongest as their relationship begins to take form and Ally’s star begins its meteoric rise. Cooper and his co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters rightly make Gaga the highlight, giving her plenty of chances to show off some surprisingly good acting chops and of course a brilliant singing voice. There is nothing particularly mind-blowing about her handling of dialogue. Her real strength is in her ability to express whether it be specific looks or a pinpoint gesture. Cooper seems to know this. His camera will often sit on her, many times in closeup. It’s a smart move.
While Gaga is getting most of the attention Cooper’s performance is equally impressive, a bit mannered but more often instinctive. His disheveled look and gravelly voice speak to a character worn down by his personal excesses and painful past. Most of that past is revealed through scenes with his older brother/manager/chaperone Bobby. He’s played by the wonderfully rugged and always good Sam Elliott. And in the final act when Jack takes centerstage (for better or worse), Cooper’s performance maintains a steady authenticity. He’s also no slouch when it comes to singing.
And of course that leads to the musical numbers, a central component sure to sell a ton of soundtracks and dominate its category come awards season. Many are shot with such energy and emotion, none better than the signature song “Shallow”. Not only is it the film’s best sequence, it’s one of the year’s very best scenes. From the exciting buildup to the powerful heart-melting crescendo, it’s impossible to watch without a tear running down your cheek. Even the final song (a bit on the nose but sure to tug at the heartstrings of its target audience) is full of heart and leans on Gaga’s dynamic and soulful voice.
Ally connects with an agent (Rafi Gavron) who packages her and launches her career. At the same time Jack watches his career crumble under the weight of his personal demons. But their relationship remains front and center. Unfortunately there are a few too many gaps in Jack and Ally’s romance. There is also some unresolved and pretty significant business the end of the movie fails to address. I wouldn’t call it an essential plot piece but it deserved a resolution. Still, it’s hard to deny what Cooper and Gaga bring to the screen. And stellar supporting work from Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, and Dave Chappelle doesn’t hurt.
While the story of “A Star is Born” may be familiar, there are enough good choices from Bradley Cooper to make his version of this ‘oft told tale’ feel fresh. Perhaps the smartest decision is not making this telling about bitter jealousy. One star still launches while the other plummets, but here we see deeper and more personal poisons working against them. It’s the more personal angle which makes this imperfect but rousing crowd-pleaser stand out from its three predecessors.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
I’m really looking forward to seeing this. After watching her documentary, I have a newfound admiration for her talent.
While I am no fan of her wild attire and popster music, there is no denying that Gaga has extraordinary talent. It’s really starting to show itself in what she is choosing to do. As far as this movie goes, I would love to hear your thoughts. It’s not the masterpiece some claim. It has its flaws. But its highs are really high, none better than the “Shallow” moment.
Me neither, that’s why I was so surprised to learn that not only does she write her own music, she can play a variety of instruments. It would seem her exaggerated style is in response to her record company’s desire for her to be like all the other pop tarts. I’ll let you know 🙂
I think you’re right which kinda plays into her Ally character. Art and life collide.
I’m aware that this film is becoming very popular and I do want to see it but I want to see all of the previous versions that had been told. Even as I’m kind of beating a dead horse here but the fact that Elvis Presley almost did the 1976 film with Barbra Streisand is heartbreaking all because of his greedy, heartless manager.
Would have loved to see an Elvis version. As it is I’m not a big fan of the 76 version (although it has been a long time since I saw it).
This version is definitely getting the hype. I do think the ‘masterpiece’ and ‘modern classic’ titles are a bit much. I really struggled between a 3.5 and 4 Star score. Ultimately it came down to the film’s highs versus its lows. The highs are really high (if that makes any sense).
A very strange experience for me, this one. While I admired and actually kinda fell for the performances, especially Cooper, and really enjoyed the musical numbers and in general what Cooper as director was doing with all of these recycled parts, i actually did have a major issue with the pacing. Man, to me this mocie felt like 5 hours. And here’s where it’s bizarre. I can’t really name any scene here that didn’t hold my attention. Like, i was consistently entertained but still felt like things could have moved along a little quicker. But of course part of that extensive run time is that he includes almost full renditions of certain songs. So that obviously takes more time. Maybe I just needed a Red Bull or something, lol. I did see it at 11:10 Sunday night…
For me the pacing was good but at the same time I felt Ally and Jack’s romance deserved a little more attention in spots. I’m also still a little annoyed at a key moment close to the end that has a big impact but is never resolved or even addressed. Not a huge deal but it has stuck with me.
That key moment wasn’t Jackson and Bobby’s reconciliation, by any chance was it?
No, it had to do with a certain pivotal conversation between Jackson and Ally’s agent near the end of the film.
Ah, ok. What was it about that scene, if you don’t mind sharing spoilers?
It’s no so much about the scene itself as about how the consequences of it (and they are severe) essentially goes unanswered. You have this exchange written, directed, and presented in a way that makes it critical to what happens next (still being vague). Yet that conversation is never reckoned with. Granted it doesn’t have to be by necessity. It could have been an intentional decision. But it kinda drove me nuts.
Great review! Ally and Jackson’s relationship was really the only big issue I took with the film, otherwise I enjoyed it. The more I listen to Always Remember Us This Way, I think that might be my favorite now, and I’ve been listening to Shallow nonstop.
Thanks! I felt there were gaps in their relationship that needed more attention. For example the Chappelle segment (I’ll keep it spoiler free). At the same time Cooper and Gaga have a striking chemistry and I enjoyed them together.
I am reminded again why I come to this site. Not only is the opinion balanced, it is explained. Everything is also written in a polished but not ostentatious manner. Human beings can follow your point without being overwhelmed with exaggerated adjectives.
Thank you so much for the kind words. It’s incredibly encouraging. I did several rewrites and adjustments to this review. It started out being way too wordy. Great to hear it managed to be reasonably coherent. 😂
Great review. This movie was definitely worth the hype. Both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga were excellent in the movie, especially Cooper’s first time directing and (of course) Gaga’s singing.
Thank you! There were several things that really surprised me about it. I’m probably not as smitten as a lot of people are with it, but its strengths are undeniable. Good point on Cooper. He has a sharp eye for directing.