A Star Is Born is a story almost as old as Hollywood itself. It’s been remade for every generation and now, more than forty years after Barbra Streisand helmed the role, Bradley Cooper has delivered us an updated version for the new millennium.
It is incredibly difficult to walk out of A Star Is Born without feeling unspeakably fulfilled. Cooper’s directorial debut has this innate charm to it that washes over you like a tidal wave right from the first interaction between his character and Lady Gaga. The two have this magnetic chemistry that cannot be downplayed. At some point during their first sort of meet-cute I realized I’d just had this smile on my face for almost twenty-straight minutes. This is the effect this film has on you. I genuinely believe that no matter how cynical, angry or depressed you may be, this film will lift you up. The first act of this film, from the opening shot to the moment Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sing onstage together for the first time is pure magic. It’s like this roller coaster of happiness that touches your heart in a very special way. The film still works from that moment onward, but it’d be virtually impossible to keep that kind of streak going for an entire runtime.
The performances are what elevate this film from a cute romance into a great film. Bradley Cooper absolutely kills it in this role. His take on a southern rock star is great and never feels like a caricature. He has this ineffable confidence to him which is only more intriguing when more and more is revealed about him and you realize he’s not exactly a worthy role model. Much of the film’s tension is centered around his personal demons, something he portrays with incredible honesty. It really is a very difficult piece of acting, as many of the things he is made to do, if handled poorly, could have come across as ridiculous-or worse-a mockery of real musicians struggling with substance abuse. As for Lady Gaga, there aren’t enough hours in the day. She is great in this film. I know she has acted before, but as far as I’m aware, this is her first work in a major motion picture. She nails it, bringing a great naturalism that sheds any previous conceptions of her larger-than-life public persona of yesteryear. The arc she undergoes in the film, from a character standpoint, is subtle and very effective and is accomplished through acting tricks that aren’t usually found in actors of her background. She really shines.
Of course, it would be a felony to discuss this film and not mention the music. The music is wonderful. And it’s not just Shallow, the song that has dominated the film’s brilliant marketing campaign, every song in the film is terrific. Lady Gaga insisted that they record all of the music in the concert scenes live, which really paid off. It gives those scenes this raw energy to them that instinctively makes you want to cheer along with the crowd. Even the songs that come later on in the story when her career is becoming more corporatized, while less substantial in their deeper meaning, are still pretty fun pop songs emblematic of radio hits these days.
I will be honest, I have not seen any of the other versions of this story, so I cannot say for certain where it deviates from the norm, although I do feel confident in my assumption that the other movies do not have a scene that takes place at SNL. A benefit of this film, in my eyes, is it doesn’t go for the storytelling cliche you’d expect from this kind of plot where as the amateur artist gets more famous, a wedge spawned from jealousy splits her romance apart. The screenplay does dip its toe into these waters a little bit, but by and large, the majority of the film’s tension and emotional beats come from much more personal issues. All in all, this is a stellar debut from Bradley Cooper and will definitely make audiences everywhere fall in love with it. There were some story elements I wished they’d spend a little more time on, but clocking in at two hours fifteen, this film already feels just a smidge too long. And again, I liked the first half more than the second, but damn, that first half really is something.
All Images are from A Star Is Born (2018) by Warner Bros Pictures