A Star is Born was a difficult film to both watch and assess. For one, it’s been remade several times over and the gist of the story has been told since 1937. It’s also physically painful to endure as someone who’s had family members who have struggled with depression and alcoholism: two themes are the forefront of this Bradley Cooper directorial debut. It helps that Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga gave their entire souls to the project, which makes that pain so much easier to cope with.
We begin with Jackson Maine: a performer in his twilight years that can’t seem to let go. Like Cooper loves film, Maine loves music. We get to see the agony behind his eyes figuratively and literally as he hopes into his chauffeured car alone and immediately starts drinking. Attempting to keep the streak going he stops at a bar that’s happening to have a singing night. Enter Lady Gaga as Ally, who Maine is immediately smitten with in more ways than one.
Gaga is the rising yang to Maine’s troubled yin. She desperately wants to break free of her awful dayjob and share her talents with the world. Maine gives her that chance with a surprise sold-out on stage performance: which she kills. It sounds like a series of tropes on wings, right? Well, not the way these two sell it.
Watching Gaga cry and hold her hands in your face in disbelief as she sings to a capacity crowd for the first time is magical. Gaga has gone through a lot of the same trials and tribulations as Ally, and even incorporates elements of her real life journey into the character. It’s sincere through and through, and the same goes for Cooper: who went through great lengths to not only act but sing in a near-indistinguishable raspy voice.
It’s just a beautiful film. Its original score, the heart of the film (without fully defining it) is breathtaking and doesn’t resort to too many reprisals. Cooper knows where to put a camera and simultaneously balances somberness and ecstasy between scenes. Tasteful modern references like SNL and several celebrity cameos ensure that the period piece feel will echo as time passes without feeling dated.
The pacing of A Star is Born isn’t for everyone, but I really loved the rapid-fire nature of it. Jackson Maine meets Ally so much quicker than you’d expect and from there the film never really stops to breath (to its benefit). Slowly, pieces of the puzzle are filled in. We start to make connections and watch Chekhov’s Guns loaded before our very eyes: sometimes with a bit of heavy-handedness to boot. But before your eyes can roll back into your head we’re back into another emotional or poignant scene.
There is absolutely nothing to trim with this cast. Andrew Dice Clay has really come into his own in the past several years with dramatic roles that escape his “Diceman” persona and nails it as Ally’s father. Sam Elliot puts on a career performance, something I never thought I’d say given that his decades-long stint is beyond impressive. Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Michael Harney: they’re all delights despite their limited time on screen. You can feel their enthusiasm for the project amid all of Cooper and Gaga’s strife.
Bradley Cooper’s directorial vision and the rest of the cast’s gusto managed to take an age-old story and make it relevant again. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack only bolsters everything A Star is Born has accomplished as a film. Both Cooper and Gaga have long, exciting new paths ahead of them.