A Star is Born Review: Fourth Time’s The Charm
R: Language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse
Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Gerber Pictures, Live Nation Entertainment
2 Hrs and 15 Minutes
Dir: Bradley Cooper | Writers: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos
Seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers - and falls in love with - struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer - until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
Before I saw this, I revisited the 1976 version of “A Star is Born” which was the most recent reincarnation and it was sorta rough. This is primarily due to the fact that the film doesn’t commit to the basis of the story. It didn’t have the characterization it needed and Streisand was running circles around Kris Kristofferson who did not want to be there. For this being Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, he puts his all into both the production and his performance. Right at the opening, he outshines the other performers who have played the persona of this character in the past. Sam Elliott plays Bradley’s brother, which makes sense because he dons this deep vibrato of a voice similar to his. Hell, even Elliott points it out and it’s part of his character complex. Even when Cooper puts on a new voice, he still exhibits a wide array of emotions. He exudes immaculate talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Every iteration of “A Star is Born” has a recurring theme of the inner workings of the entertainment industry, and while some came close to capturing the true nature of the theme, no other film accomplished it better than this 2018 version. This is a relevant, accurate story and some of the settings compliment it spectacularly. Ally and Jackson’s first encounter is at a drag bar and the vibe there is authentic. Not a single part of the film feels artificial or fabricated. Cooper does an overall fantastic job of capturing this retold narrative in a contemporary light that is ties to the honesty of the music industry of today. There is a mature “Almost Famous” vibe to the narrative and it’s part of the film’s charm.
Elements and old incarnations are explained more in this and they provide great character arcs. Why is Jackson a drug and alcohol addict? That is explained. The adapted screenplay is so well-written that you can’t top it. This is the fourth rendition of “A Star is Born” and it better be the last because you can’t really step it up from here. Thanks to the amazing writing and the incredible performances you actually care about these characters, the music, their relationship, and, most of all, their story.
Lady Gaga. Holy hell. Holy hell. Wrap the next Oscars up because it's over for everyone else that earns that Best Actress nomination. She picked up an Oscar nomination in 2016 for her song “Til It Happens to You”, but 2019 is her year. She has that locked, sealed, and delivered, not just for her music, but for her performance as well. This is Gaga’s first lead role in a feature film and she kills it in a natural, experienced actress kind of way. If you aren’t a “Little Monster” by now, this film will convert you. Unlike the characters that were portrayed in previous incarnations, Ally is not a manic pixie dream girl subjected to the male gaze, but she is complex and relatable. I’m not saying that other leading actresses who played this role in old incarnations were ditzy or anything, but they truly didn’t have much to them besides their end goals.
Because she impressed this man with her voice, Ally is thrown into a crazy rockstar world and she reacts in an anxious manner. She is the audience’s avatar, for this is how normal people would react, yet she is never afraid to speak her mind and defend herself. She’s bold, fearless, and a force of nature. I want to get into detail about how amazing Gaga is as an actress in the film, but there is already an existing Gaga gif for that:
They develop their characters and show them as dimensional people as their relationship is the carrier of this story. I would’ve never thought that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper could be paired in a feature together, but goddamnit their chemistry is amazing. When they are on screen together they are electrifying, especially when they play music together. Rest In Peace to the other nominees for Best Original Song in every award show from now on, because they don’t stand a chance in hell against their duet, “Shallow”.
Even some of the supporting cast is amazing for their short amount of screentime. Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father is great and surprisingly charming. Dave Chappelle is great as he delivers an amazing monologue, and so is Anthony Ramos as Ally’s best friend. Yet, the person who blows you out of the water in his supporting role is Sam Elliott as Jackson’s brother. Elliott is incredible in this film. He definitely deserves at least a Best Supporting Actor nod, not just for how amazing his voice, is but for the character written for him. There are moments where Elliott becomes vulnerable and starts to cry and... shit... when someone that manly cries, so do you.
So, if you are a Gaga stan, the film gets oddly meta. Myan (my copy editor) is a full-blown Little Monster and pointed out to me throughout the movie how some appearances are by people who are in Gaga’s actual, real life entourage. In the film, Ally gets signed to Interscope Records, which is not only Gaga’s actual record label, but also the record label that released the film’s soundtrack. There are several appearances by her real life choreographer Richard Jackson. Then, you see Gaga’s actual sister (Natali Germanotta), her hair stylist (Frederic Aspiras), and her makeup stylist (Sarah Tanno) in a scene. While that doesn’t mean shit to your regular moviegoer, it is rather odd if you are a Gaga fan. Or maybe the meta cameos will hype you up a little more? They are kind of like easter eggs right? I think those are easter eggs.
I would say that the film runs a bit too long and slows down abruptly from the fast pace that the story was being told at first, but they make up for it with a gut punch of emotions that occurs in the third act.
After nodding off in your seat for a bit saying “wrap this up”, you proceed to cry genuine tears as the story drives home into your heart and into your next year’s Oscar ballot.
Back in 2014, I was invited to a taping of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s jazz concert at the Lincoln Center. It was my first concert and she just had this charismatic presence that illuminated the entire room, mostly due to her voice and her energy. Whenever she performed a song in the film, I had an out-of-body, deja vu moment and tears flowed out of me in my seat as they did when I saw her on stage. Her talent has no limits, no bounds, and she has proven that she is one of the greatest musical performers of this century. The best part is that I’m not even exaggerating. I could write an essay about her being a cultural icon, but I won’t because this film speaks for itself.
Also, can we talk about how Bradley Cooper has come such a long way from asking Sean Penn a question in “Inside the Actors Studio” and proving fucking Louis C.K wrong?
Now to turn it to my copy editor Myan who actually (unbeknownst to my knowledge prior to watching the film) attended an actual taping of Gaga performing a musical sequence for the movie. I’m serious. Yeah, I’m as shocked (and envious) as you are. Is it biased? I think it is, but whatever. She’s making this review coherent so I might as well give her the platform.
As mentioned above, yes, I was in the audience while a particular scene was being filmed. Also mentioned above is the fact that, yes, I’m a solid Lady Gaga fan who initially wanted to watch this film just because she had a lead role. Note the keyword “initially” because, teaser after teaser, and with each viewing of the trailer, I found myself needing to see this full ensemble in action and watch this story come to life. That being said, I did my darned best to walk into the theater with an open, unbiased mindset. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about because “A Star is Born” is genuinely incredible, heartbreaking, and well-written.
Lady Gaga is a delight to watch. Much to the surprise of no one, her singing voice is stellar and her acting skills shine just as bright. Bradley Cooper immersed himself so deeply into his character it would be a travesty for him to not get any award season recognition. His performance is raw, honest, and at times a little difficult to watch. You want the best for Jackson Maine, but this isn’t a fairy tale where the cast magically resolves everything within the allotted time frame. The characters in this film are complex, real, and multi-faceted. Everyone in this cast has a purpose, whether big or small, and they all contribute to the attachment you feel to the main protagonists.
Sure, the film is really long. To be honest, almost anything with over 2 hours for a running time could be considered too long, but “A Star is Born” justifies its extra length with a third act you’ll be thinking about for days (or weeks, or months).
In a nutshell, this modernized retelling of the “A Star is Born” narrative is charming, touching, poignant, and should be welcomed with open arms by every award show there is. Also worth noting: the soundtrack is just as excellent as the film it accompanies.
Bolstered by both Cooper and Gaga’s impeccable performances and Cooper’s direction, “A Star is Born” is an incredible remake that delves into a contemporary setting and delivers a remarkable story that can’t ever be improved upon.
OOH, I’VE BEEN SAVING THIS RATING ALL YEAR AND I’M SO PROUD TO HAVE TO USE IT TODAY!