A Star Is Born is a powerful, captivating, tragic love story backed by two of the strongest performances of the year, a terrific soundtrack and beautiful cinematography. It’s the rare Oscar favorite that’s deserves all the praise and is more than just the hype.
After three previous installments, with the most recent released in 1976, the question is was another remake necessary? Now the bigger question following this version is why would anyone else feel the need to attempt a remake. Cooper and Gaga’s version is effectively the final word or take ever required for this story.
Bradley Cooper pulls triple duty as star, co-screenwriter and director. A Star Is Born marks the first time he’s handled screenwriting or directorial responsibilities. It’s a major undertaking and Cooper pulls it off like an experienced vet.
He’s hardly a rookie in front of the camera as he stars as Jackson Maine, a popular musician still packing concert halls and selling out tours. Jackson is kind of over the magic of being a star, but is still a decent enough guy that he indulges fan’s selfie and song requests.
During a pit stop on tour, he discovers Ally (Lady Gaga), an alluring singer/songwriter, who’s largely given up her dream of being a star. Ally is overflowing with talent, but never managed to get her big break thanks to her less than idealized looks. But with Jackson’s encouragement, Ally slowly begins to seize her moment and become the star she never dared to hope would become her reality.
With her success, Ally starts to see Jack losing his control over his dependency over alcohol and painkillers. Jackson’s hearing is starting to fade and he pops more pills to numb the ringing in his head.
As Jackson continues to spiral, Ally’s career begins to reach new heights. Despite the widening chasm of their professional paths, their love for each other is undeniable.
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There’s two huge revelations from the film. The first is Lady Gaga could be as good an actress as she is a singer.
It’s too easy to look at the role and dismiss it as she’s just doing her ‘day job’ of playing a singer. Sure, whenever she’s singing Gaga reminds everyone she’s an elite level singer. That was never in question. The revelation is how she brings a surprising amount of depth and range from a performer who’s previous screen roles were Machete Kills and Muppets Most Wanted.
Gaga conveys the sheer exhilaration of someone who was told so often they’d never amount to anything, rewriting their story. It’s the classic long shot against all odds making good and Gaga makes Ally’s journey fully satisfying.
Cooper makes an astonishing debut as a director. He shows all the right instincts, when to pull in tight to his performers and when to create necessary distance. Cooper’s choices don’t feel like the work of a director trying to be flashy or showy and instead focused on telling a story.
The concert scenes are standouts as Cooper doesn’t film them in the typical manner. He shoots them in almost an intimate fashion from the stage. Editor Jay Cassidy effectively splices scenes so the crowd is lost in a blur of lights and haze. I loved the slow pans around Jackson and Ally how beyond the stage is treated like a gateway to their passion and love of performing.
Cooper has developed into one of the stronger actors of his generation. He had a three year streak of being nominated for Academy Awards (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper), but this is his best performance. Cooper shows the powerful hold of Jack’s substance abuse issues and how it’s nearly inescapable. Cooper makes Jackson seem so accessible and gradually reveals the darkness and depression threatening to overtake him.
The script, co-written by Eric Roth and Will Fetters, doesn’t glorify the celebrity lifestyle and shows Jackson’s issues as beyond his control. But it’s the love story that really drives the film
The film also deserves high praise for its cast makeup, which is far more diverse than most Oscar contenders. Minorities aren’t simply background players, but have meaningful roles like Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s longtime friend or Anthony Ramos as Ally’s co-worker/best friend. Even Eddie Griffin gets a nice moment.
If Oscar voters aren’t ready to recognize another comic book movie performance — I’m fully Team Michael B. Jordan in the Best Supporting Actor category — Sam Elliot would be a terrific choice. Elliot delivers one of his best roles as Jackson’s older brother/support system. Elliot and Cooper have some really tender and emotional moments as brothers drifting away from one another.
The film takes viewers on a amazing journey, but none as heart-wrenching and as beautiful as the final act, which features one my favorite endings to a film in years.
A Star Is Born is an incredibly captivating experience. It’s one of those movies that will be easily be on my list for best films of the decade.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures