“I’M OFF THE DEEP END, WATCH AS I DIVE IN, I’LL NEVER MEET THE GROOUUUUNND!” ~ live recording of me scream-singing along to your future Oscar winner for Best Original Song, “Shallow.” But this isn’t a song review (all though, if I’m being honest, it partly is), it’s a review of A Star is Born. I imagine Best Original Song is not the only award for which this film will be in contention.
A Star is Born is a remake of a remake of a remake (and so forth) starring Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut) and Lady Gaga. Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper) is a singer-songwriter whose staggering external fame masks an internal struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. Following one of his sold-out shows, Jack stumbles into a bar and finds Ally (Gaga), a waitress and amateur performer with a voice of an angel, singing “La Vie En Rose” onstage. This fateful encounter will drastically and irreversibly change the pair’s lives, because as one star is born, another may be burning out.
Much like Ally is being “born” as a true pop star, this is the birth of Lady Gaga as a bonafide movie star. She is among the most prolific musicians of our generation, and while she delivered glimpses of her acting prowess in American Horror Story: Hotel a few years ago, A Star is Born reveals the depths of her vulnerability and her willingness to inject pieces of her own life story into Ally’s veins.
Shortly after Jack meets Ally, they get drinks together, and Ally tells him that people in the music industry have told her that they like her voice, but her looks don’t fit the image of a star. This is a struggle Gaga herself has admitted to having, and it plays a prominent theme throughout the film as Ally’s fame grows (her producer, at one point, suggests she dye her dirty-blonde hair platinum blonde instead). Gaga, in many ways, is acting out her own psychodrama on screen, the origins of her career, and the result is deeply visceral, impactful and emotional.
Gaga is a sure-fire frontrunner for Best Actress, but as sensational as she is, Cooper is the driver of this star-making vehicle. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this entire project is Cooper’s musicality. In the opening moments, Jack opens his mouth, and Cooper’s soulful, folky voice comes out, selling me immediately on why Jack Maine is so famous. Off stage, Jack’s speech cadence is southern, gravelly and often slurred due to his drinking problems, the result of Cooper completely submerging himself into this role. His and Gaga’s tremendous, often heartbreaking chemistry is the foundation upon which everything else in A Star is Born is built.
That’s just what happens in front of the camera. Behind it, Cooper proves that he has an eye for visual flare, making intriguing usage out of profile shots and mobile camera, and creating a space that feels real — aided by excellent camera work from cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Cooper also establishes himself as an actor’s director — unsurprisingly — pulling out stunning performances not only from himself and Gaga, but from an excellent supporting class made up of Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle. Their roles, while relatively small, all propel the story forward. It’s a truly exciting directorial debut, one that makes me wonder what else Cooper may have in store for future films.
As mentioned in my opening salvo, the music is perhaps the third biggest star after Cooper and Gaga. This may be obvious, given Gaga’s involvement in the film, but it’s a spectacular soundtrack, the peak of which is “Shallow,” a duet between Cooper’s Jack and Gaga’s Ally that marks the first time Ally really performs. Although the film never quite matches the heights of this initial performance, Jack and Ally’s passion for music is always felt, always heard.
A Star is Born is ultimately a tragic love story, and while Cooper and Gaga deftly navigate their characters’ ups and downs, some of these story beats may be familiar or easy to predict. In fact, Cooper utilizes a fair bit of foreshadowing for the events to come. The first half serves the film’s themes more adequately than the second half, which strays away from the personal tone that the beginning offers us. Cooper and editor Jay Cassidy’s decision to cut in the middle of scenes can become repetitive and a bit jarring as well.
Despite these lapses in structure, the film is a poignant look at the trials and tribulations of love and fame. We are used to seeing the glamor of stardom, but there is far more beneath the surface that is not usually seen or understood. A Star is Born signifies Lady Gaga’s birth as an actress and Bradley Cooper’s birth as a filmmaker, their musical and acting abilities coalescing into a product that is absolutely worth seeing (and singing along to). Expect people to be buzzing about this one throughout Oscar season for all involved in its production.