movie reviews

A Star is Born fulfills advance hype with excellent work from Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

cooper_gaga

Could A Star is Born possibly be better than its trailer? That’s a joke (or cynical opinion) often reserved for superhero blockbusters like Iron Man, Man of Steel and Suicide Squad.

The preview released in June got seemingly everyone excited for this movie and probably brought some relief to those who thought a remake of the 1976 Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson film was a terrible idea that could possibly destroy Bradley Cooper’s career (at least as a director).

No one’s laughing or wincing now.

Not only does Cooper give the best acting performance of his career, but he also impresses as a director. He lets scenes play out and trusts his actors, rather than resorting to quick cuts and editing to create a false sense of story movement. It’s not difficult to imagine that he’s providing the direction himself that he would’ve preferred other filmmakers gave him and his co-stars.

There might be a few scenes that go a bit long, especially in the movie’s less compelling second half. But when so many films now feel like they were sliced up and patched together in the editing bay, a movie that takes time with its characters and lets the actors shine feels refreshing.

No, A Star is Born isn’t a perfect movie. It’s not the tight distillation seen in that trailer, which should be obvious. Once Lady Gaga’s Ally catches fire and breaks out as a huge pop star, the story gets a little bit goofy as her manager sculpts her image and music into an artist who will be more popular for mainstream audiences. At times, that feels like parody — especially considering the elaborate lengths to which Gaga has taken her own career in terms of costuming, filming and performing.

The story also moves much faster and feels choppier once Ally’s becomes a star and leaves Cooper’s Jackson Maine behind. Maybe that’s intentional, to show just how fast these sorts of things can develop when agents, managers and cultural tastes are trying to capitalize on popularity as quickly as possible. Perhaps that pace is also meant to reflect Maine’s (drug and alcohol-addled) state of mind as this burgeoning talent he’s discovered and fallen in love with soars out of his reach and becomes something nearly unrecognizable.

The choppier second half may also be a nod to the previous version of the film. Yet I haven’t seen the 1976 edition so couldn’t say for sure. (I often felt like I should watch Streisand and Kristofferson, and certainly had opportunities through Netflix and Amazon, but eventually thought it was better to go into Cooper’s movie fresh and could compare later.) But since that’s the source material, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Ultimately, however, Cooper and Gaga are so engaging that you might not even care about how the story is moving and less attention is paid to character. Early on, Cooper does great work depicting how Maine is a barely functioning addict off-stage, yet comes alive and seems normal when he’s playing his music. (Make-up helps provide the worn, leathered look of someone who’s drinking too much.) He has a scene late in the film that I would argue is the best thing he’s ever done on screen. We’ll likely see it during the Oscars.

There’s also a curiosity about Maine as the story progresses that could make it compelling for repeat viewings. Does he become jealous as his lover and protégé becomes more successful and exceeds his fame? Or is he disappointed that she “sold out” for pop stardom, rather than developed as a singer-songwriter type of musician? The script doesn’t say for certain, which is one of its strengths.

(The movie also doesn’t explore whether or not it’s harder for female artists like Ally to find success as singer-songwriters, rather than become multi-threat pop stars who also have to perform choreographed dance numbers in videos and on stage.)

But the uncertainty going in was how Lady Gaga would fare. Can she act? Does she hold her own with Cooper and other actors she shares scenes with (such as a surprising, yet distracting, Andrew Dice Clay as her father). It’s probably a cliché to say Gaga is a revelation, but she portrays Ally very believably. She’s tough, even when she can’t believe the good fortune that she’s experiencing. You sense that she’s rightly wary of Maine (since his problems are apparent), but is also gratified that someone recognizes her talent and loves her for who she is.

Most importantly, the music is good. To some, it might even be great. (If you didn’t realize Lady Gaga could sing before, you’ll know it now.) This film would’ve been a disaster if the songs weren’t catchy and believable. Why would anyone go along with the story if the music wasn’t convincing? But I’d buy an album of Jackson Maine’s music (I guess I did, with the movie’s soundtrack) and would go see him in concert. Are Cooper and Gaga leaving money on the table by not taking the Jackson and Ally show on tour?

Personally, I’m eager to see what Cooper’s next project behind the camera will be, which is a feeling I didn’t expect after watching A Star is Born. I anticipated relief — like, “OK, he did it. He got through it just fine.” Of course, now that he has a taste of directing what should be a big hit and a possible Best Picture winner, it’s unlikely that he’ll give that up and settle for taking direction from someone else.

Cooper has already expressed that he’d have no interest in directing a movie that someone else wrote when asked if he’d consider taking on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 after James Gunn’s dismissal. Why would he want to give up that kind of creative control, when writing, directing and starring in his own film worked out so well for him?

The question now is whether or not A Star is Born is the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar. No, that shouldn’t be a consideration toward seeing this movie, though it surely will be for some. (Don’t leave yourself out of the conversation!) Many critics and observers speculated that the film would get Best Picture love before it was released in theaters. The trailer confirmed that prediction.

Cooper is a popular guy, one who many of his peers would root for. Getting an excellent performance out of an acting novice like Lady Gaga would also win him major points. And successfully remaking a well-known property, putting his own stamp on a film that’s been made four times previously, would draw a lot of praise in the Hollywood community.

With an early October release, A Star is Born has provided plenty of time for critics and detractors to pick it apart on its way to the Academy Awards. The movie wasn’t released too early. (While Gravity didn’t win Best Picture, hitting theaters in October gave people an opportunity to find it.) It’s arguably set the bar that other contenders like First Man, Vice, Green Book and If Beale Street Could Talk now have to reach. The movie also probably put some distance between itself and other earlier releases like Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman.

But none of that stuff will matter to those who just enjoy the movie. Sure, maybe it’s affirmation. And maybe some people will tune in for the Oscars telecast who otherwise wouldn’t have. (No “Best Popular Film” category necessary.) A Star is Born makes you feel something, it makes you care about the people in the story. And once again, the music is catchy. Those are great reasons to see this movie, regardless of awards consideration.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

2 thoughts on “A Star is Born fulfills advance hype with excellent work from Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s