A Star Is Born – 2018
Director Bradley Cooper
Screenplay Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters Based on A Star Is Born
by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell
Starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Michael J. Harney
When first seeing the trailer for the 4th iteration of A Star Is Born, it looked like the perfect trap for Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Streisand and Kristofferson fell into it in the 70’s and the story is so often told, it would have taken perfect performances by both to make it work. Or maybe not.
In one of the early high points for the film, Cooper’s Jackson Maine, who is on top of the world, offers a hand up to young Ally, a waitress somewhere near you and me on the popularity scale. She takes her chance and hits it out of the park. They begin to celebrate right after the show, stumbling, fumbling for the key to the hotel room with arms and lips entwined. Ally, not wanting to blow this moment, takes a quick powder break. No more than 30 seconds go by and she walks back out into the suite and sees Jack out on the sofa. Drunk, drugged and requiring help just to get into bed.
Once there, she paces back and forth, unsure what to do. This is not the way her moment is supposed to end. Everyone watching knows this. Finally we see her shrug and take off her clothes, climb into bed and sleep.
A Star is Born is filled with such moments. We see people who are genuinely kind and good, moving past one another in the trajectory of life. They meet at the right time and bind themselves together. For better and worse.
As a first time director, Cooper is the very definition of brave. He plunks himself in the role of a loser disguised as a superstar. He’s losing his hearing to tinnitus and he’s hardly ever had any real hope, until he finds Ally. He’s saved the performance of his career for himself, it seems. Just watching him lean over and politely ask time and again for things to be repeated as he moves into and out of sobriety. It’s a performance that pushes past anything he’s done before like a rocket doomed to explode when it comes back to earth.
Lady Gaga does more with this role, to the point that it feels she isn’t really acting at all. It seems like the songs play like an autobiography of her own career. The performance feels true because it is her. She’s been in these places and her own rocket is still full of fuel for take off. One gets the feeling that many of the situations in the film mirror ones she’s encountered.
It’s one thing to act what you know. What she does is something more, though. She has the ability to look real on the camera. Sometimes she’s a pop star, other times she’s the girl hanging out at home on a Sunday, remembering every word you ever told her. Because you matter to her.
Elliot and Andrew Dice Clay give two incredibly strong supporting performances. Word around the campfire is that Clay’s been doing this for years. Elliot is good in Up in the Air. This performance is nomination worthy.
The cinematography is another one of the strengths of the film. Matthew Libatique has given us many great shots in Aronofsky films. Cooper uses him to humanize his characters and set mood throughout like they’ve been working together forever.
The choices Cooper makes in regards to nudity is an example of how well thought out this work is presented. There are several scenes with strategic covering during the romantic scenes. The one time we get the briefest shot of full frontal is in the beginning of the fall. It reminded me of Julianne Moore, standing prone in Altman’s Short Cuts. There is nothing but sadness sucking all of the air from both scenes.
The music is brave, as we have one guy with, let’s just say a human voice, being matched with one of the true talents of our time. It works. The songs have the feeling of being lived in, much like the soundtrack to Crazy Heart. Some crucial assistance from Lukas Nelson, Mark Ronson, Jason Isbell, Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna as well as Gaga’s compliment of cowriters give the songs feel heartbound.
I don’t have the greatest record predicting awards. What I can say is if this only gets music awards this year, then someone made horrible decisions. Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor all should be in play.
If you are tired of the trope where one star rises and another star falls, I think you should still see this film. It’s better than any film I have seen this year by a long shot. That’s likely because it’s filled with several moments that are just one weakness shy of being perfect. Like life.
(***** out of *****)