A Star Is Born is the story of Ally (Lady Gaga), a woman who was consistently told, by men, that she did not have the correct characteristics to perform her art of song on the largest of stages. Ally is working odd jobs to get by, but occasionally graces the stage of the drag bar she serves at to sing her heart out. On one fateful night, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a renowned singing superstar stumbles in and becomes awestruck with Ally’s voice and presence. The emotional rollercoaster begins.
Jackson has a large heart and fading career. He views Ally with pure wonder and joy, perhaps something he remembers as part of his past and sans present. Jackson then affords Ally opportunities while simultaneously falling in love with her. She in return falls as well, trying to turn a blind eye to his self-destructive patterns rooted in substance abuse. She waxes, he wanes, and throughout they make beautiful music together in a variety of mediums.
What works in A Star Is Born is a multitude of elements including direction, acting, and music. One might assume that the 3rd remake of a film might feel superfluous, but the conglomeration of talents makes this cinematic experience nothing short of breathtaking. To begin, Lady Gaga is an absolute triumph. No matter if you are a die-hard fan or a person who casually knows her name from pop-culture, her development of Ally is deep, moving, and emotional. It’s no surprise that Gaga’s vocal performances are astounding as well, but never-the-less they amaze with their richness—the songs (most of which she wrote) will make you dance in your seat or rip out your heart depending on what the narrative demands. At this point, you can consider Gaga the front-runner for Best Actress, and because of her work, it’ll be difficult to determine specifically which two ballads will land nominations for Best Song.
And then there is Bradley Cooper. Appropriately second-billed, it’s tough to decide what one should laud him for more—his incredible knack as a first-time director or giving his best performance to date in his already colorful and diverse career. Directorially, Cooper makes it look easy. In a Washington D.C. Q&A, Cooper admitted to spending hours in editing rooms on his films, and carefully watching collaborator David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbooks, American Hustle). Cooper was clearly a careful student, as he noted that he wanted a raw, realistic element to his sequences which pushed him (at Gaga’s persistent encouragement) to only use live recordings in the final product. He said he strived to make every interaction, musical or not, feel authentic. He succeeds. One might only need a minute or two of watching his on-screen chemistry with Gaga to understand that’s he concocted something special. Cooper’s creation and portrayal of Jackson, both as an actor and director, is astoundingly deep to the point where an emotional attachment with him and the surrounding characters is simply inevitable.
It is astoundingly, if not frustratingly, difficult to criticize a film like A Star Is Born. Perhaps one could lament that the story has been previously told, or that that the arc is too well telegraphed. The counter-argument is that this new version gives merit to the notion that sometimes classic tales can be deftly adapted for a modern audience. While it stands on the shoulders of, let’s say at least two giants, Cooper and Gaga have found a way to make the narrative relatable for today’s consumers. At its heart, the 2018 A Star Is Born is a tale about love of your passion, your partners in life, and most importantly yourself. When appropriately executed, that message can be inspiring no matter what the era. From that perspective, A Star Is Born just may be the new gold standard, shining bright.
Recommended if you enjoyed: La La Land, Silver Linings Playbook, Crazy Heart
Final Grade: A
Likely Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Picture
- Best Actress – Lady Gaga
- Best Actor – Bradley Cooper
- Best Song – The Shallows
- Best Sound Editing
- Best Sound Mixing