A Star Is Born

Pure Oscar material about the rise and fall of two musicians, a classic story tailored for the “La La Land” era.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,131

star_is_born
Distributed by Warner Bros. Drama, Music, Romance. Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse. Released October 5, 2018. Directed by Bradley Cooper. Produced by Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, and Todd Phillips. Screenplay by Eric Roth and Cooper & Will Fetters. Based on the 1954 screenplay by Moss Hart. Based on the 1976 screenplay by John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion and Frank Pierson. Based on a story by William Wellman and Robert Carson. Starring Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, and Dave Chappelle.

About a week ago, in a course I am taking on principles of communication theory, we were discussing the power of celebrity image and how it blinds us from reality. In a fashion that is practically unconscious, we lionize these people to the extent that we thoroughly miss the fact that they are normal human beings just like you and I. In a sense we treat them like gods, which is why when we see their flaws, we experience cognitive dissonance, an uncertain feeling about how we should regard them now. “A Star Is Born” captures the essence of this concept marvelously. Our hero, or rather antihero, is Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a total rockstar with a household name. His hamartia is alcoholism. Granted, it’s what brings him to meet Ally (Lady Gaga) at a drag bar where he makes a pit stop on his way back from a show. He pursues her to no end until she finally comes on the stage with him at one of his concerts, eventually landing a major record deal, and becomes a hit. But at the same time, while Ally’s career is on the rise, Jackson’s drinking problem leads to a tragic decline in his own career as his private vice becomes intertwined with his public life.

The two biggest surprises of the film are the most anticipated. Bradley Cooper can sing and Lady Gaga can act, and rather phenomenally. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is dynamic. They offer so much humor and charisma to their roles, and we develop a deep emotional connection with them. It makes for an emotional powerhouse of a film. Of course Gaga’s sensational singing abilities make the movie all the more fabulous. Her seminal performance of Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en rose” is absolutely stunning. Watching the intercutting focus between her singing and Cooper reacting, we’re absolutely captivated. I’ll also note that the camerawork does the film a great deal of justice. It adds a raw, indie vibe to the film. This is a movie that you don’t just watch; you feel it. The scene where a nervous Gaga comes onstage to perform “Shallow,” the lead single from the film’s soundtrack, with Cooper is downright riveting. You feel butterflies when you watch it, as if you were right there with them.

There isn’t much to complain about with “A Star Is Born.” The acting is phenomenal, not just by Cooper and Gaga but also by Sam Elliott, who plays Cooper’s older brother, father figure, and manager. The best of his performance is brought out by the drunken volatility of Cooper’s character. Their heated sparring with words gives us chills. The midsection of the film, which is just as deep as the rest of it, deals with Ally’s frustration that the desires of her record label conflict with her creativity as an artist. The heavily produced synthpop songs that ensue are meant to sound sub par, but they go the distance in illustrating this portion of the narrative. The only problem I see with the film is the fact that Jackson’s fans aren’t any bit hesitant to applaud Ally’s performance at his concert. Their sounds are worlds different. But this is something I realized after the film; watching it, I was blown away. This is the fourth incarnation of “A Star Is Born,” after the 1937 film with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the 1954 musical with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1976 musical with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Bradley Cooper’s 2018 directorial debut tailors the classic story for the “La La Land” era. Like the aforementioned, it’s pure Oscar material.

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