Cinema Review: A Star is Born | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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A Star is Born

Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by Bradley Cooper

Oct 04, 2018 Web Exclusive
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The fourth iteration of any entity is a tricky endeavor because it will beg one question: Why bother? In his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper takes on A Star is Born, which is the third remake of the same name since William A. Wellman’s 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor. (In between we got the great 1954 version starring Judy Garland and the 1976 version starring Barbara Streisand).

Not only has the film been made three times prior, but also it leans heavily into familiar themes of fame and addiction and yet Cooper makes a confident and strong argument against any “why bother” concerns. This modernized version has been gestating for some time (Clint Eastwood was once attached to direct with Beyonce as the star) but became a passion project for Cooper as his first film behind the camera. He’s left all of that passion on the screen and once the credits roll, you know exactly why it was worth touching this material again.

On top of directing, producing, writing and co-writing some of the original songs, Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a popular musician with an addiction problem. Just as he is about to perform to a large crowd, he takes a few pills and washes it down with some liquor and we see life has taken a bit of a toll on Jackson. He’s a great entertainer but his world-weary appearance suggests things haven’t always been great for him.

After the show, he has his driver take him to the closest bar, which happens to be a drag bar, where the one woman singing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” instantly mesmerizes him. He knows he has to meet her. He is brought backstage and introduced to Ally (Lady Gaga), whom he takes out for drinks and an instant connection is formed. Before long, Ally is performing on stage next to Jackson and they are in a full-fledge relationship. Ally has always wanted to be a singer and being put on a stage next to Jackson allows the world to see her talent.

Things move fast in the first hour of A Star is Born, to the point where it might seem a bit too tidy and convenient, but we are instantly enveloped because Cooper and Gaga have such electric chemistry. Their work feels so natural, it’s hard to not be taken on the ride of their whirlwind romance. It’s always interesting to watch musicians cross over into big movie roles like Gaga has done here (she has a few film and TV credits prior to this). As Ally, she brings all over her musical talent and none of her persona. There isn’t a shred of the Lady Gaga you think you know on screen because she becomes Ally entirely.

In probably his best performance, Cooper lives inside of Jackson without making him feel like a cliché, even when the script might head in that direction. We’ve seen countless stories about musicians and their demons and even when Jackson is passed out from drinking too much, Cooper imbues the character with depth and humanity. We believe he wants to be better for Ally but he isn’t exactly sure how to get there.

The supporting cast all get brief, but impactful, moments to shine. Andrew Dice Clay plays Ally’s father and the actor has a few nice and tender moments without his signature glasses on. Dave Chappelle has one scene as an old friend of Jackson’s, delivering an affecting moment when Jackson might be at his lowest. Most notably, the great Sam Elliot plays Jackson’s half-brother and their checkered history provide some of the most interesting moments outside of the central romance. Elliot is only on screen for a few minutes but leaves his mark in a way Elliot can do in so little time (see his one scene in the criminally underappreciated Grandma).

A Star is Born could have stood to shed 20 minutes from its 135-minute runtime because things slow down in the middle, sometimes noticeably, after wonderful first hour but Cooper brings the movie home in a powerful way. Throughout, he tows the line of creating something entirely his own, while being unabashedly old-fashioned and nodding to the previous movies that came before his. He proves the story of fame and love is timeless and allows for a new generation to experience it, while hopefully enticing them to seek out the ones that inspired him.

Author rating: 8/10

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