A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut radiates from the technical achievements in sight and sound full of stunning performances. The story for this fourth iteration of the timeless tale comes up just a bit short.
Life is nothing without risk, and, in the beginning of Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga’s Ally is just that: without risk. She has a lot of raw, untapped talent and ends up working meaningless jobs to pass the time. Well, not everything she does is meaningless.
She happened to be singing in a bar when Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine, an established singer-songwriter in his own right needed a drink following a performance. This is how the two betwixt future lovers met on that fateful night: a down-and-out country singer who battles his own demons along with other physical ailments and a relative unknown who impresses her friends and her family.
With that, Mr. Cooper’s directorial debut is off like a shot.
This version is the third remake of a story that goes all the way back to 1937 with a screenplay from Eric Roth, Cooper and Will Fetters. I have not seen the other three iterations, and so this was a blind watch for me. Yes, I’m acutely aware of the Kristofferson – Streisand version that so many lament.
Mr. Cooper’s version is a technological marvel, first because he learned how to sing and play the guitar, so everything you’re seeing on the screen is him. That’s dedication to his craft. Second, is Lady Gaga herself. This is her debut acting role and while it shows in her speaking moments, the sparks between the two characters really drive home the passionate side of this timeless story.
Where the sparks really ignite though is when they’re on stage together. In the opening number, she resists his attempts to bring her up on stage. Why shouldn’t she be fearful though? The character has never performed in front of a huge crowd. And I think this is why that first number, where they duet together is perhaps the most elegiac moment in the film: she is still uninitiated in the whole music business and he’s so in to her and into the music.
It’s the beginning of a beautiful, yet fractured relationship. And there are supporting characters on both sides of that equation which push and pull throughout the remainder of the film, largely Sam Elliot as Bobby Maine, Jackson’s older brother. As Jackson’s manager, he keeps the image going and his brother’s interests at hand.
An unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay plays Ally’s father, Lorenzo a limo driver and wannabe lounge singer himself. Until Jackson, Lorenzo was Ally’s anchor, and somewhat vice versa. The moments between Clay and Gaga, between father and daughter were electric. Although his role is small, Anthony Ramos plays Ramon, Ally’s friend. Without Ramon, Jackson and Ally would never have met.
Dave Chapelle plays George Stone, a retired musician based in Memphis. There’s a scene where Jackson goes off to do a promotional piece and gets lost, forcing Ally to come find him. Ally gives Jackson an ultimatum in this scene and Jackson, being the clever guy he is, proposes to her. There’s nothing corny about this sequence and if anything it’s romantically funny.
Rafi Gavron plays Rez, who eventually becomes Ally’s manager. He’s smooth and slick and has a nice, convincing English accent. He is also overly protective of Ally when she eventually rises to fame. This protectiveness is really where the story starts to fumble.
In the beginning, it was an unrequited love between the two. There was never any animosity over her success and there was never any lament on the downfall of his career. But, when Ally moves from country-rock and acapella into R & B, the two drift further apart. Yes, Jackson has his own demons to contend with that are forcing the wedge to widen and he tries to make amends, but we know that he is an unredeemable character. The second half of the film where most of this occurs is a downer and it’s meant to be, but it isn’t as strong as the first half when they were falling in love.
Cooper handles both sides of the camera expertly. I almost felt like I was watching a younger version of Clint Eastwood, who was originally attached to the project. Cooper gets the best performances out of everyone and that’s really the highlight of this film. That and the music, which will have audiences singing for days on end.
Aside from the sound mix, which if you have the chance, see the film in Dolby Atmos in a theater, the cinematography is sublime. Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Straight Outta Compton, Venom) really highlights the musical numbers on stage with an in-the-moment presence as if you had a stage pass to see a live performance. It was magnetic.
In spite of the story elements that bothered me, this film will capture the public’s attention and we’ll be talking about this film all the way through awards season. Any nomination the film ends up receiving would be well deserved. The film is a technical marvel and something to behold on the biggest screen possible.
Now in theaters, A Star Is Born is rated R.