Every day, A Star Is Born. In the country music world, there’s none bigger than Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). Hell, there may be none bigger in any genre of music than he. Supremely talented, few know the real Jack—an individual who wrestles with the demons of a turbulent childhood in Arizona and finds temporary respite for those problems in the form of a worsening alcohol addiction.
His bender lifestyle leads him to a club where he’s smitten immediately by a woman known as Ally (Lady Gaga), a struggling singer who doesn’t carry the vices of Jackson but deals with her own issues of low self-esteem. Together, the two find comfort in one another, and Ally sees her songbird dreams become concrete instead of the pie-in-the-sky variety. The music between the two isn’t 100% harmonious though, and the clashing discord of differences is heavy enough to potentially derail their love story.
Let’s give some recognition to the film that allowed this rendition to happen. No, not the 1954 version starring the suave James Mason and the starlet Judy Garland; rather, the 1976 iteration with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand. If the stench of that never happened, perhaps Hollywood isn’t compelled to remake a near 65-year-old feature. Or maybe it didn’t matter one iota and this story was due for another solo stab. Regardless, this rendition of A Star Is Born is likely going to be the rendition people remember, for great reasons.
Is it surprising that A Star Is Born is spearheaded by…its stars? Gaga is likely to be the talking point of this for the next few months. This is a pressure situation that demands a lot from the singer in obvious ways that her appearances in Machete Kills, Muppets Most Wanted, and even her Emmy-winning turn in American Horror Story did not. While it is not an impeccable performance (a scene here and there with her co-star feel like she’s as unsure of herself as her character is), many of the notes she needs to hit are hit well, and it’s an overall great performance if only because it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing what she does here any better.
The same can be said for Cooper, likely his best acting work to date in choosing not to cut corners in working around the fact that music is not his day job. He immerses himself as Jackson, to the point where it would be easy to see this fictional character right at the top of the Billboard. His performance feels extremely personal; as he at one point almost succumbed to his struggles with alcohol back in 2004. Do not overlook Sam Elliott here, certainly on the short list for supporting accolades.
A Star is Born is essentially a musical biopic that is entirely fictional, as it tackles addiction, the rise and fall of super-stardom, and the soulless showbiz industry that will often strip away any shred of authenticity people with talent have. In other words, things that are not exactly foreign. But, there’s some novelty in seeing the leads confront these realities in their own different ways. As the movie crescendos to a crystal clear coda, it is a testament to the shared chemistry of Cooper and Gaga, Elliott, and Dave Chappelle (his five or so minutes of screen time are powerful) that makes a solid, if standard, story emotionally moving and pretty compelling.
Cooper’s first effort in a directorial seat is equally compelling. His shot setup is nothing short of stellar, and his collaboration with cinematographer (and longtime Darren Aronofsky collaborator) Matthew Libatique creates a magnetism that is nothing less than engrossing. To call this predominately a musical would be misleading, and that’s a welcome thing that characters do not randomly break out in song. Might as well pencil in A Star Is Born for one Oscar win; it’s going to be hard to envision any other movie having the collective sway over a nation that songs like Shallow, Diggin My Grave, and I’ll Never Love Again will have and already do. Hell, “B” tracks like the Cooper-performed Black Eyes are better than a bulk of the fare today. If there were one semi-significant rough spot with Cooper’s behind the camera debut, he and editor Jay Cassidy falter here and there with their storytelling, as notable scenes appear as if they needed a stronger preceding link/transition scene to maintain cohesion.
Well, October’s bell is officially rung. A Star Is Born dives into the deep end of awards season, boasting a ton of power in many different cinematic octaves.
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