A Star Is Born
Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, Ron Rifkin, Michael J. Harney, Greg Grunberg
R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
After a disastrous third go at the story of an up-and-coming superstar and the aging drunk who discovers her, the fourth outing of A Star Is Born proves to be a satisfying, if cliched, version of the classic story.
The first film, from 1937, was set in Hollywood as a young actress (Janet Gaynor) hoping to become the next big thing in Hollywood finds a legendary benefactor (Fredric March) who gives her the chance to become a star. After Judy Garland and James Mason remade the film to great acclaim in 1954 shifting its focus to a more music-centric Hollywood affair, it was further iterated on in 1976 by Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This third attempt, which moves the singing out of Hollywood, was much maligned even if it did produce one of cinema’s most famous songs (“Evergreen”).
42 years after that prior incarnation, Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut acting alongside Lady Gaga in a plot not far removed from the third version. Herein, Cooper plays alcoholic Jackson Maine whose career is being slowly destroyed by a combination of his substance abuse problems and his worsening tinnitus. After discovering Ally (Lady Gaga) in a drag bar, singing her heart out, he falls in love and takes her on tour with him where her star rises and eclipses his. Jack spirals further into alcoholism and drug addiction, risking his relationship with the burgeoning pop superstar.
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper prove strong scene partners, crafting great music together. Cooper delivers on the promise he’s shown throughout his career with a raspy performance that careens out of control in affecting and compelling ways.
Lady Gaga is a solid musical performer, her familiar voice emerging from the film’s well-mixed audio track to delight fans and non-fans alike. Her acting ability shows definite improvement over the stiff delivery in the 5th season of the vaunted anthology series American Horror Story. That said, there’s not a lot of variance to her performance. Her angry moments aren’t much more evocative than her tearful ones. The slight shift in tone is noticeable and makes the film flow by, but subtlety doesn’t quite work for a character like this in a role like hers, so it comes off at times as a tad bit disingenuous, though it’s thankfully not as overbearing as it could have been. With some seasoning, she could become a far more assertive and appreciable star.
Sam Elliott has a small supporting role as Jack’s far older half-brother and the man who often spends his life managing the unconscious singer with little affection or appreciation in return. Elliott has been a strong character actor for years and this is easily one of his more moving performances even if it is all too brief.
Cooper’s direction is assured, a terrific debut for the actor. The film moves effortlessly along the script he co-wrote with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. The beats don’t hit with a lot of force and the emotional impact of the film’s climax feels a touch muted, but it’s clear he has a lot of potential for future success.
One can’t speak of the film without discussing the music. It’s quite good, though the certain-to-be-Oscar-nominated “Shallow” pales in comparison to both “Evergreen” and 1954’s “The Man That Got Away.” While it might not be as memorable as the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand hits, it punctuates its various cinematic moments satisfactorily.
A Star Is Born has enough old Hollywood charm to be affecting with enough modern convenience to be accessible. While it never approaches the kind of major event picture status that any of its predecessors did, its success is assured simply because it feels somewhat different than everything else around it.
Guarantees: Picture, Actor (Bradley Cooper), Original Song
Probables: Directing, Actress (Lady Gaga), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Mixing
December 21, 2018