A Star Is Born (2018)
Director: Bradley Cooper
Screenwriters: Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, Eric Roth
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Greg Grunberg
A Star Is Born has returned to the silver screen for the fourth time, with the 2018 incarnation being driven by screenwriter, director and star Bradley Cooper, a filmmaker whose transition from heart throb to awards season regular in the acting field may prove to be less of a sensation than his move from in front of the camera to behind it when all is said and done, despite his efforts here offering only glimpses at his full potential.
The crux of A Star Is Born is its music-centred romantic drama which remains as compelling on the page in 2018 as it has in the past, though it is filled with a very specific brand of melodrama you might only associate with a story first put to screen in 1937. Despite conscious efforts to steer away from momentary emotional manipulation found in such melodramatic moments (the likes of which modern audiences seem much less inclined to buy into) in favour of the overall story giving a bigger whack, Cooper’s rendition of the timeless classic feels lacking in tangibles, whether it be the connection between the central characters or the emotion behind a number of key moments.
So much of this film flashed by too quickly, with the editing seeming to end many an emotional moment several beats too soon, removing any possibility of investment beyond that which the script was quite forcibly driving home. Though this was perhaps done intentionally to serve Cooper’s desire of a full-narrative emotional journey as opposed to peaks and troughs, it was somewhat jarring to see character reveals and confessions skipped past as if pre-break hooks from a 90s television show. There was simply never enough time afforded to care about the twists in the journey, which ultimately unravelled some of the movie’s most sincere and well acted scenes.
In contrast to the disappointments in editing and how awkwardly paced the movie seemed to be, the acting of Lady Gaga and particularly Bradley Cooper was hugely commendable. Gaga stretched to a performance that may act as a solid launching point for a potentially great dramatic acting career moving forward while Cooper offered undoubtedly his very best work ever, etching his name onto the early list of Oscar candidates ahead of early 2019’s awards season.
Their on-screen chemistry did however seem lop-sided with Cooper offering a performance that seemed to indicate genuine infatuation with his character’s muse, but Gaga seemed to be less engaged and certainly less in love, despite playing a character swept away by her lover’s charm, fame and riches. Whether this was because of Gaga’s acting in of itself, the movie’s overall restrictive editing or her casting in the first place as a “plain Jane turned megastar” despite maintaining her superstar branding, this slight disconnect opened the space of discontent created by the editing’s lack of genuine appreciation for the narrative’s major story beats to create a hole large enough to remove full attentiveness from the overall presentation, thus creating the feeling that A Star Is Born dragged on for too long despite how much time and how many issues the script covered.
Visually, A Star Is Born was somewhat like an advert for the United States, its concerts filled with colour and energy, the sunsets more beautiful than you’ve ever seen, inner city life filled with variety, colour and happiness. In much the same way as previous iterations portrayed, Cooper’s version is a love letter to his homeland and thus in-keeping with the film’s central most theme, the American dream. ‘It’ll happen here if it’s to happen anywhere’ is largely the message of A Star Is Born, even throughout its explorations of darker subject matters, and the way the film was photographed was certainly on the level of this message and one of the movie’s biggest takeaways.
In much the same vein, the energy, noise and passion presented by Cooper and his team during the movie’s most important musical moments at concerts and festivals was outstanding. Rarely has music seemed so genuinely like the real thing while on the big screen, with the opening sequence of the movie putting down a huge marker of intent as guitar rifts faded in to a clutch of band mates beginning a huge concert in front of thousands of people. In a sense, this achievement was as indicative of the film’s passion and love for music as the overall visual presentation of the film was for America, leaving the film’s truly excellent soundtrack to lift the whole thing to an all new level.
For fans of the much-told story, Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born offers little more than mentions of YouTube to separate it from its predecessors, which works against the film in terms of originality but works for the film in terms of its timelessness and, in a sense, captures the very nature of this ‘tale of two films’; a movie torn between elements that are wholly spectacular and a collection of elements that never seem to click.
Overall, it was a solid directorial debut from Bradley Cooper, and a collaborative first step for he and Lady Gaga into potentially fruitful new artistic ventures, but A Star Is Born did lack in a number of vital areas, and despite being so similar to its predecessors it did struggle to engage in quite the same way. This is a film that feels like a great film was lost somewhere along the way but is nevertheless a strong all-american outing that is bound to get some awards season buzz despite failing to reach such a very high bar.