I will add my voice to the chorus saying that A Star Is Born is phenomenal. There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical. It is a fourth version of the film, after 1937, 1954, and 1976 versions (putting it up there in Night of the Living Dead / Invasion of the Body Snatchers / Brewster’s Millions territory). This is also Bradley Cooper’s first time as a director and Lady Gaga’s biggest role as an actor. Actors turned directors, and singers turned actors don’t always work. Well hoo boy were the skeptics wrong. A Star Is Born is exceptional, and will be nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Song.
In this iteration of the story, aging alcoholic singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) comes across Ally (Lady Gaga), a girl with a great voice, but who still lives with her father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay), and working a dead-end job. The two start to fall for each other, and before long Ally gets her turn in the spotlight. Jealousy and alcoholism threaten the relationship, as one is on the rise to stardom and the other is on the decline.
“…one is on the rise to stardom and the other is on the decline.”
Everything about the direction here is top-notch. The scenes are selected and constructed for maximum emotional impact. You might hear two characters starting to write an intimate song, but then the first time we really hear it is on stage as the performers seem to discover the magic of it along with the crowd. Or a song might start with the stage version, but then cut to the personal moments constructing it. It isn’t a traditional musical — all the song moments are set in context, and serve a story point, giving them maximum impact. These are just tiny pieces of what works, but the framing, pacing, casting, dialog, and of course the songs are all terrific.
I know Lady Gaga has done some acting before, but here her performance is superhuman. A normal person has access to all the range of emotion that a face specifically, and a body more generally, can conjure. But she has the additional superpower of delivering an emotional wallop through music. I’ve never seen someone able to act so thoroughly and convincingly while singing in all the history of humans attempting this in cinema. I don’t know any other way to describe it but magic. It is a full heart-and-soul level performance at a level that is beyond description.
Bradley Cooper is really extending his range here as an actor as well. His past-his-prime alcoholic singer is channeling Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart for sure, which isn’t a bad thing. That performance was right in the Bridges wheelhouse, though it is quite a departure for the handsome devil Cooper. It is bold, but he carries off every second of it, including singing himself.
“…she has the additional superpower of delivering an emotional wallop through music…”
The lightning in a bottle you have to catch to make an epic love story work is chemistry between the leads. With one actor a relative novice, and the other trying to stretch himself and direct his first feature, the deck was stacked against them. But wow did they pull it off. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are terrific together.
The supporting roles in A Star Is Born are equally wonderful, and some in surprising ways. Sam Elliott remains a genius — there’s one shot in particular of him backing a car up that just floored me (I know it sounds strange, but honestly, it is iconic). Andrew Dice Clay exudes charm in every scene as Ally’s father, in a wonderfully healthy father-daughter relationship. But the biggest surprise is Dave Chappelle in a totally serious role. He isn’t in the film long, but he certainly left me wanting to see him in more movies.
So far A Star Is Born seems to be the most buzzed-about movie of the fall so far. Critics love it, but it is guaranteed to please general audiences too. It should be a box-office and awards juggernaut.
A Star Is Born (2018) Directed by Bradley Cooper. Written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott. A Star Is Born screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
10 out of 10 stars