I feel like I’ve been availed with trailers for A Star is Born since last year. This movie has a lot going on so it needed the head start: Bradley Cooper writing, producing and directing, Lady Gaga (billed as Lady Gaga) in her first starring role, and countless comparisons to Judy Garland. That last part’s not true, but these are hallowed Old Hollywood grounds for obnoxious movie critics (yo) and a superstar mega-film for normal moviegoers that almost has to deliver.
Ultimately, I thought A Star is Born would either be dumpster fire in slow motion or the movie that swept the Oscars this year. Thankfully it’s neither of those, but I’m still torn about it. There are some rough, rough parts to this movie, but boy howdy are there also incredible moments that you really can’t miss.
A Star is Born
Directors: Bradley Cooper
Release Date: October 5, 2018
Apparently, A Star is Born will be remade every few decades as this is the third high profile remake of a love story between a rising starlet and a self-destructive singer, this time with a country music flair. Gaga is the girl, Ally, while Bradley Cooper is the grizzled, and I mean grizzled, Jackson Maine. After discovering her at a drag bar, Maine whisks the incredibly talented Ally on tour, eventually falling in love as they tour the country. Jackson’s career starts cratering while Ally’s blossoms as drug and alcohol abuse ruin him. No one can save him from his spiral; not his older brother (Sam Elliot), not his close friend (Dave freaking Chapelle), not even Ally. However, despite the struggles, quarrels, and embarrassments, the intense love between the two leads endures.
Some positives first. First, the film is a dream to look at. The shots and cinematography, musical numbers especially, always perked my eyes up even when everything else going on was muddled. It highlights the stark divide in substance that happens in the movie.
Put bluntly, it falls short at times. Most of the time it’s when A Star is Born is trying to go too big or too little that things don’t always come together. The opulent concert scenes are gorgeous but are occasionally just unnecessary. The super close and intimate moments suffer from a similar problem, ironically. To show my #gamer cred, they’re Trying too Hard™ as attempts at genuine emotion can end up sanguine and one dimensional.
Again, not every moment falls flat, but those that do become more noticeable when other parts of the movie work well. Some concert scenes do work well, in both their buildup and party atmosphere, just as more solemn moments with Ally and Jackson playing with their dog provide a more intimate glimpse into their relationship. These parts are exhilarating and lovely and bittersweet and just a little frustrating that the whole film can’t be like that. But only just a little.
This relationship, the entire foundation of the movie, more than anything exemplifies this mixed bag. Bradley Cooper’s marble-mouthed take on the Southwestern-accented Jackson actually grew on me. I already knew Cooper’s acting ability was top notch because of his role as Rocket Raccoon — I’m dead serious, fight me — but he really does own the show’s quieter moments. Unfortunately, this being a couple, that means Lady Gaga doesn’t. Her acting is more than passable for sure, but she can’t keep pace with Cooper. The way she emotes and her overall physical presence are lacking, so she is overpowered by the other strong performances, once again leading to scenes that are rough around the edges.
You wanna know what’s not rough though? You wanna know what makes this movie 100% worth seeing despite any of my above qualms? Lady Gaga’s singing performances are so amazing they are hard to describe with words. While Cooper’s singing is solid, any and all qualms I had with her acting melted away once she starts belting out the movie’s great songs. I cannot think of one issue. She had to follow in the footsteps of Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand and she kills it. KILLS IT. There are glaring issues in this movie, even some outside of Gaga’s control when she sings, but those moments when it’s her voice, Coopers winning smile and some beautifully composed scenes, A Star is Born is perfect.
If I’m being completely transparent, I thought this movie would bomb, but now would recommend it in a heartbeat. When talented people come together, and they all are talented here, it produces a good movie. A turbulent movie that frustrated me at times but also gave me some dizzying highs. A Star is Born isn’t a train-wreck, nor a triumph, but something more complicated that shouldn’t be enjoyed in spite of its flaws, but because when it flourishes, it really is sublime.