When I first heard that Bradley Cooper would be making his directing debut with A Star is Born, honestly, I kind of groaned. It’s not because I didn’t believe he’d have the chops; after all, he’s worked with many successful directors over the span of his career. I groaned because I believed the world didn’t need yet another remake of the film. This will be the fourth incarnation of the film, and while many can debate on which version is their favorite, the film was pretty much a relic I felt should have stayed in the past. I mention this and want to also put out there even after some of the trailers I had caught for the film; my excitement level was pretty low going into this. Well, this turned out to be the sleeper hit of the year for me. Sure, many could have told me this would be a hit, and because of the cast I wouldn’t dispute it, but when I walked out of the auditorium I felt like I had experienced something special (even if it had been made three times before).
The film opens up with Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) taking the stage and performing for a large crowd. After his show he’s looking to get a drink and stops off at the closest bar; as it turns out it is one that caters to drag-queens. Jackson doesn’t care about the location; all he’s interested in is getting some drinks, but that all changes when he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform on stage. As the night stretches on and the two continue to get to know one another, one thing is undeniable; the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is phenomenal. The flow of the first act of this film is perfect, and by the time Maine has Ally convinced to go on tour with him, I was convinced this movie will be a box office smash.
The way Cooper handles this performance is a bit unexpected. Maine is a really likeable guy, but his alcoholism and his pill addiction are definitely flaws that take him and his relationship along with his career to some dark places. But Ally remains his saving grace and manages to pull him back up every time he stumbles. To a degree this role somewhat reminds me of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, but what Cooper manages to pull off here is definitely a career high, and most likely a performance that will get him a few nominations. As for his unique voice he uses in the film, well, it’s an amusing nod to his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) who is somewhere between Jackson’s manager and the one who fixes all of Jackson’s messes. Elliot is great as usual, and seeing him and Cooper play off one another is one of the high points of the film.
Then there is Lady Gaga; she’s had some bit parts in TV and film, but she’s never really had that chance to really put it all out there. Like the character she plays, Gaga as we know is a singer and songwriter, so you’d think this would be a simple performance for her. Make no mistake, this is a performance that shows us that she is the real deal, and her acting is almost as good as her voice (in case you didn’t know, she has an amazing voice). As we see Ally develop over the course of the film, we see her evolve from the shy, talented girl to a pop star, but it’s the in-between moments as her relationship weaves through the highs and lows that she shines.
What is also remarkable in the screenplay that Cooper penned along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. This is a tricky film, as it has a lot to juggle in a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes, but the balance between the romance, the alcoholism, and the music is well crafted. The digs at the music industry and how the characters deal with being a celebrity in the modern age is what keeps this nicely grounded. I’m especially a fan of the bits where we see Jackson growing uneasy as Ally seems to veer away from the music she and he originally were doing together as her management pushes her into a more pop-star image.
One of the more subtle charms of the film is the cinematography, Matthew Libatique is responsible for shooting the film (amusing anecdote, he is also shooting Venom which has its release the same day as A Star is Born). What I liked most is how intimate the film is, where during the performances instead of playing it safe with wide shots, the camera gets right in close to the performers where we can see the pain and pleasure they are experiencing while performing. Then factor in the performances from the variety of actors who fill out the cast, like an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, and a handful of others, you can understand how this should be a critical and box office success. Everything seems to be in the films favor.
The soundtrack I’d expect to be a chart-topper as well. There are a handful of songs here that are really good and are of the caliber fans have come to expect from Gaga. But the biggest win for the film is how it manages to tell a compelling story without big special effects, and despite having an epic feel to it, it is sweet, intimate and heartfelt. I think the best compliment I can give this film is that it plays like a great album that once it finishes you can’t wait to check out again. This has a special kind of replay value that will suck fans in, and I’d expect this to be a film we are talking about through the awards season and be a fan favorite. Is it the best film of the year? It’s too soon to tell, but I’m willing to bet this will make many top-ten lists. Like I said before, this was a film that I didn’t expect to make such an impact, and I’d expect I won’t be the only one to be happily taken off guard by this one.