Review – A Star is Born (2018)

by Kevin Muller

The word, remake, has become a dirty word in Hollywood. Whenever one is announced, people roll their eyes, and either totally ignore it or hand over their money in some type of curious shame. The new film, A Star is Born, is the third cinematic iteration of the popular story about a musician, in his decline, that finds both talent and hope in a young female aspiring singer. The pair this time are Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who not only stars as the male lead, but directed, co-wrote, and produced this epic love story.

Cooper plays Jackson Maine. A typical bad boy country singer whose closest relationship is with the bottle. People love him, he is talented, he sells out stadiums, and he also is a complete mess. His older brother and manager Bobby, played with the reliable cowboy nature of Sam Elliot, constantly tries to reason with him, but it is hard to do that with someone who is always wasted, and can’t remember one conversation from the next. One night, after a concert, he stumbles into a bar, where a down on her luck singer, Ally, is about to go on to a very enthusiastic crowd. Ally blows him away with her voice and beauty. Jackson, not the shy one, goes in for the kill and charms her. Soon after, he invites her to one of his concerts and breaks her out of her shell by getting her to sing in front of millions. The two fall in love and she starts to live the life she only dreamed of her whole life. Of course, this all comes with a price when she starts to see Jackson’s true colors and how the music industry strips an artist of their identity. Jackson tries to keep it together for this wife, but his demons are too strong and this is where most of the drama comes from.

The biggest question on most people’s minds is, how is Lady Gaga in this? She holds her own against the much better performance of Cooper. That isn’t a statement that is supposed to take anything away from her performance. For someone who is incredibly outlandish in her concerts, or anytime she is out in public, her performance is very low key. Ally does have a fire in her, but none of what we know what makes her Lady Gaga is present here. She deals with all the emotions that Cooper throws at her quite well. I really don’t have to go on about her singing because we all know she can sing. With that being said, her show stopping performance at the end is reminiscent of a young Whitney Houston. It is worth the price of admission. Outside of the singing, what everyone was waiting for was to see how her and Cooper would sell the love story. All worries should be put to rest because the chemistry between these two is incredible. They do more than enough to sell it. It isn’t just the romance part that they get right, but all the ups and downs of an unforgettable big screen relationship. The laughs are genuine, the fights are very personal, and the tears feel earned. Dozens of films come out each year where film makers try hard to create chemistry between their two leads that don’t even come close to what Cooper and Gaga display here. This is the strongest point of an already fantastic film.

While Lady Gaga is good, it is Cooper who is a revelation. He fully encapsulates the identity of a country music star: the grizzled beard, the walk, the sly smile, and swagger that feels authentic and true. The most impressive part of his performance is the voice. To play his older brother, Cooper recruited character actor Sam Elliot. Elliot has a distinct voice that fits well into what we envision a dusty cowboy to sound like. Cooper perfectly emulates Elliot’s voice to a naturalistic point. It never becomes distracting or comes across as if he is trying too hard. The performance goes beyond the physical acting though. Cooper creates a tragic three-dimensional character makes you understand why Gaga both wants to love him and then rip his hair out. He is the quintessential misunderstood, charming, talented, tortured artist. Despite seeing him at his worst, we also see Jackson at his best, performing the music he loves in front of an arena full of fans at different parts of the film. His presence on stage is fun and he commands your attention. It is the only place where he feels alive and in control. This is what makes his downfall so effective. He has talent but has so many demons that he can’t move forward to his best life. It really is a fascinating character and it is his story as much as Ally’s.

This film is really Cooper’s baby. A Star is Born is interesting to think that at one time, Clint Eastwood was attached to direct this with Beyonce in Gaga’s role. Eastwood is one hell of a director, but I don’t think he would’ve been able to capture what Cooper brought to this film as a director. Many actors have remarked that it is incredibly difficult to navigate yourself as a performer when you’re also doing duties as a director. What Cooper brings out so well is the grittiness of this life. Yes, you see the rich glamorous adventures of Ally, but he isn’t that concerned with that aspect of the story. He is more concerned with Ally and Jackson’s personal struggles, both with each other and individually. Both stories are wisely given equal amount of screen time. To help heighten his vision, Cooper recruited cinematographer, Matthew Libatique. His shooting style in most of his films is the handheld camera technique that are full of closeups. This makes the viewer feel they are part of everything from the huge concerts to the more intimate moments between the two. In parts, the film has a feel of a documentary. Many films use this cinematography technique to emulate what this film does flawlessly.

Almost everything this film could’ve screwed up, it got right. The performances across the board are incredible. Cooper injects a very natural and laid back vibe throughout the whole film. This is one of the most impressive freshman projects by an actor turned to director that I’ve seen in a very long time. I know the title of the film is reserved for both Lady Gaga, and her character Ally, but Cooper’s new career, as a director, is the real star that is born.

I am giving A Star is Born a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!

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