September 8, 2018
‘A Star is Born’ Is a Catchy Cover of a Classic Pop Song [TIFF]
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga revitalize A Star is Born into a powerful, emotional drama. The familiar story of an aging performer discovering a rising star gets a fresh coat of paint, excels thanks primarily due to the performance (and musical talents) of Lady Gaga.
Like a catchy cover of a classic tune, A Star is Born manages to make the old seem new again. You know the story – and you should, because this is a remake of a remake of a remake. And yet, director Bradley Cooper keeps it fresh. He has a lot of help, primarily from Lady Gaga, who blows the fucking roof off this joint from the get-go, coming out strong and never once letting up. Despite what several publications have suggested, this is not Ms. Gaga’s acting debut. But it might as well be, because her performance here is a revelation. Fierce, fragile, funny and blessed with killer pipes, the singer-turned-actress is wholly believable. One could argue that she’s essentially playing a fictionalized version of herself, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how captivating she is.
Gaga plays Ally, a working glass gal who moonlights as a singer in a drag bar. She can carry a tune, and then some, but she’s painfully shy about her looks – her nose in particular. But none of that matters where rock star and constant drunkard Jackson Maine comes stumbling into the bar. Out of booze and looking to get loaded, Jackson just happens to catch Ally’s performance – she struts about crooning “La Vie en Rose” – and it moves him to tears. He immediately takes her out on an impromptu date, and discovers that not only can Ally sing, she can write songs as well.
Before Ally has time to process what is happening, Jackson is whisking her off to one of his concerts and bringing her out on stage to help belt out one of her songs. A familiar path follows: Ally’s star begins to rise as Jackson’s begins to fade, primarily due to his uncontrollable drinking. None of this is surprising. What is surprising, though, is how engrossing this all is. Even though we can see where this is headed, it’s nearly impossible to resist A Star is Born’s charms.
Cooper’s direction is a big reason for that. The actor-turned-director has a great eye (and ear) for capturing the electric energy of a live performance, and even if you don’t like the Black Keys-style jams his character plays, you’ll likely still get caught up in the beat.
You’ll also get caught up in the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. The two work well together, and while the relationship eventually turns rocky, one of the film’s most interesting elements is the way it staves off that rockiness. The script, by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, keeps teasing that a rift is about the form, and that Jackson’s jealousy of Ally’s rise to stardom is going to take hold. But then the actors break the tension by getting flirty, deflating the situation entirely. It works.
As good as Lady Gaga is, she’s backed-up by an excellent cast. Cooper, who is doing a bit of a Jeff Bridges impression here, is very convincing as the alcoholic rock star, all grumbles and lolling head movements. Even better: Sam Elliott, playing Cooper’s frustrated older brother. Elliott has a lot of dramatic weight to carry, and he never stumbles. There’s a moment late in the film where Cooper’s character confesses something personal and tender to Elliott before exiting a car – the camera then cuts to a close-up on Elliott’s face as he backs the car out, looking utterly emotionally devastated, his rough visage crumbling. It’s incredible. Elliott also adds the word “fuck” and its variations into nearly every line he has, and let me tell you – no one drops an f-bomb as effectively as Sam Elliott.
Now that I have all the gushing enthusiasm out of the way, let me just add that A Star is Born isn’t entirely the ground-breaking masterpiece it’s already being heralded as. The film is too long by at least ten or fifteen minutes, and a late development that spurns Jackson into a shocking act rings kind of false. There’s also something a bit off about how Ally reacts to certain things – she’s constantly talking about Jackson in regards to her own career and talent. True, Jackson is responsible for helping launch her to superstardom, but she seems just a bit too beholden for him. There’s a scene near the end where we see her performing a concert, and she stops to encourage the crowd to “give it up” for Jackson, even though he’s not even there. A little bit of autonomy would’ve gone a long way.
These issues aside, A Star is Born is a rousing success. It doesn’t break the mold, but it does find ways to make the mold seem exciting and new. And there’s just something incredibly compelling and emotional about watching Gaga’s Ally break out into song, her voice rising and booming, overwhelming everything. A Star is Born is a song you won’t mind getting stuck in your head.
/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10
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