Some movies get remade because studios believe that nostalgia can squeeze more money out of a property, other movies get remade because a director sees a way to add something new to an already established story; A Star is Born is definitely in that latter category. We’ve seen this movie done several times, but with Bradley Cooper’s inspired approach to the writing and directing of the film, A Star Is Born is an experience that you don’t want to miss.
A Star is Born follows the story of country singer Jackson Maine. After performing one of his shows, he stumbles into a bar for a drink and finds a singer named Ally; she has a beautiful voice, but isn’t willing to perform any songs that she’s written. After spending a night talking with Ally, Jackson decides to invite her to one of his shows. When she gets there, he asks her to come on stage and perform one of her songs. She resists at first, but eventually seizes the opportunity, and changes her entire life in the process.
I absolutely love this movie because it’s a story I’m familiar with, but I was still shocked with how everything was presented. There are obvious beats that I think people who haven’t seen any version of this movie could pick up on quickly. Jackson and Ally do fall in love with each other, and the conflict in the film does stem partly from Ally’s eventual success. These things are predictable, yet still compelling to watch.
The most striking part of the progression in A Star is Born was how it wasn’t afraid to critique the music industry. They address how artists can lose their voice when trying to become a star. The music becomes diluted, and they become just another artist trying to find the next big hit. Sometimes it happens, and that person isn’t even aware. This worked so well because Lady Gaga plays Ally, and her problems with the music industry are well documented. They go as far as addressing how a label likely won’t even look at you if you aren’t what they deem to be sexy. Lady Gaga is in no way an ugly woman, but she has a unique aesthetic that I can easily see being thrown to the side despite her talent. It’s frustrating to watch this all go down. Jackson is a witness to this struggle, but Ally’s ability to speak what’s on her mind through her music is what initially attracted him to her.
The relationship between Jackson and Ally is compelling to watch. Ally isn’t really an aspiring singer, she works a dead end job and has completely given up on the idea of living out that dream. Jackson has been in the industry, and he gravitates toward people who can really express themselves through music. When he meets Ally, she tells him that she got turned down because of the way she looks, but he can’t stop looking at her. His belief in her talent gives her confidence to eventually take the stage and sing her heart out. At the same time, Jackson has his own demons he has to deal with, and with Ally around, he tries to work them out. They both lift each other up to become better versions of themselves.
Bradley Cooper’s direction in A Star is Born is fantastic. Considering that this is his directorial debut, I was constantly blown away by how good it all was. My favorite aspect has to be how he captures the musical performances. He switches to a handheld camera and it gives these shows such a visceral feeling. He’s also not trying to use the cameras to hide anything. When he’s playing guitar, the camera is right on his hands, and when Lady Gaga is singing, the camera is directly on her face to capture every single emotion. The shots of them performing in front of stadiums of people made everything feel authentic
My only problem is that the editing is not always great. There are times in A Star is Born where situations feel rushed. Specific scenarios wrap up in a single scene when it would’ve gone over better if they took a little more time. There are also some aggressive cuts in the film that just didn’t make any sense. One time in particular there were three shots shown in succession that didn’t coherently tie together. It was jarring to see that in a movie that paid such close attention to detail in every other aspect of the film.
This attention to detail becomes apparent in the acting performances. There aren’t many characters in A Star is Born, but everyone gives a fantastic performance. Bradley Cooper really embodies Jackson Maine. He’s so into his art while trying to fight off the trauma of his past. Behind every smile is a clearly communicated pain that comes to define his character. I’ve never seen Lady Gaga act before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but she is fantastic. Cooper wrote the role specifically for her, which really worked in her favor. She looked as if she’s been doing this her whole life. The supporting cast is also great. Sam Elliot plays Jackson’s brother, and he delivers a few heart-wrenching scenes. There’s one where he doesn’t even say anything, but the audience immediately knows everything he’s feeling in that moment. There’s even an appearance from Dave Chappelle, who plays one of Jackson’s friends. He doesn’t stay for long, but I loved seeing Dave in more of a dramatic role. He wasn’t the best actor on screen, but he held his own and was a great addition to the cast.
This brings me to the outstanding music in A Star is Born; the songs sound so beautiful, and they help push the narrative forward. Each song works as a sort of checkpoint in the story and communicates where our characters are in their lives. These songs come to life because both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga can sing well. I was surprised at how good Cooper’s singing voice was. There’s a certain level of grit to it that made it stand out. With that being said, Lady Gaga completely dominates the musical aspect of this film. Her voice is so powerful, and she sings with so much conviction, that it’s at times overwhelming. I was floored each and every time she got on stage to sing. By the time we got to the final song of the movie, I knew she was going to deliver a show-stopping performance, and that’s precisely what happened. “I’ll Never Love Again” is a movie defining song that caps off a beautifully sad love story.
A Star is Born is a moving experience. The actors have such great chemistry that all of the relationships feel real. The story does touch on the struggles an artist faces when they get signed to a record label, while at the same time talking about things like substance abuse, depression, and trauma. It’s much more than a love story with a few great songs in it. This is a story about people and how they express themselves. Bradley Cooper proved he can do it all in this film, and with help from Lady Gaga, pulled off one of 2018’s best movies.
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