A Star Is Born (2018)
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Jackson Maine(Bradley Cooper) is a hard living and hard whiskey drinking western rock singer who lives it up entertaining crowd after crowd. Jackson is a man who's got plenty of personal demons besides the bottle as his family friction with only brother Bobby(the great Sam Elliott) weighs on his heart heavy. Things change when Ally(Lady Gaga) captures his heart along the way the two get to know each other in an intimate way as passion becomes love.
Still the love is not without struggle and heartache as Ally becomes famous and well known while Jackson's music and personal life both take a downward path with alcoholism as he just can't escape his own dark shadows. It's like you as the viewer could see the tragedy coming all along.
Overall entertaining film with fine and beautiful music and the on screen chemistry between Bradley and Gaga is in top notch form, as clearly this is one love drama to see that showcases the rise of fame and stardom, also while showing a grim personal downfall.
That all changes with A Star is Born.
Change, however, is a key word when it comes to remakes. (Or remakes of remakes of remakes...) In order to make the venture worthwhile, the film makers not only have to stay close to the ideas of original film, but they have to have a reason to retell the story. It's a delicate balance. Every version of a Star is Born follows a broken celebrity, in the Winter of his career, damaged by years of drinking who is suddenly reborn when meeting a young ingénue. The two fall in love, but while their relationship develops, their entertainment careers go in different directions.
Director and Co-Star Bradley Cooper's film seemingly borrows more from the Streisand/Kristofferson iteration of A Star is Born (the last time this story was retold), as the dynamic between the two lovers hinges on the music industry. When Streisand and Kristofferson remade the film, (for the fourth time at that point) in 1976, they broke one of the aforementioned expectations, as they both took home Golden Globes for their performances. Perhaps Cooper was more inspired by performance, rather than aesthetic, as the acting is one aspect out of many that shines in Cooper's version. The characters of Jackson Maine (Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) drive the entire story in what is essentially a film with only half a dozen notable characters. Cooper and Lady Gaga have amazing chemistry, and from the moment you see the two on screen together for the first time you feel the connection.
First time director, Cooper, deftly creates intimacy between Jackson and Ally, without which the story would certainly not be as successful. In stadiums housing thousands of fans, in small dressing rooms packed with screaming Drag Queens, in a loud dive bar, in the parking lot of an all-night-grocer, Cooper uses tight framing and sound impeccably to make it seem like they're the only two people in the world. You understand his charm, you see her vulnerability, and the two actors give side-by-side stellar performances.
That isn't to take away anything from a small, but powerful supporting cast. There were some brilliant and surprising moments from Dave Chappelle as Noodles, an old friend of Jackson's who reiterates how much Ally has revitalized Jackson. The largest surprise came from Andrew Dice Clay as Lorenzo, Ally's father. Both Clay and Chappelle brought great moments of love and humanity in their criminally small interactions with the two main characters. Sam Elliot also surprised me in his role as Bobby, Jackson's (much) older brother. They explain the age discrepancy, but the rest is self-explanatory as he and Cooper truly are brothers on screen, with all the frustration, fights and familiarity that goes with that relationship. Elliot in his similarly small time on screen, often showed the softer side of his craft, hiding touching instants of sadness when it comes to his difficult relationship with his brother, concealed only slightly by his iconic mustache.
It begs the question, does Cooper deserve all the praise as director, or does the cast? What I can glean from the film is Cooper definitely had his cast on the same page, as regardless of screen time, these actors made you care about their characters. The audience is invested. There are countless pivotal story beats where these characters may do something frustrating or angering. Instead of merely recognizing that these are hurdles to push the story further, I found myself almost vocally upset, akin to yelling at a character in a horror film to not go in the room where the killer is hiding. This film makes you want the protagonists to succeed, even when dealing with topical subplots regarding celebrity, regret, depression and substance abuse.
And that's because you're along for the ride the entire time. You're a part of this love story. The film sucks you in from the beginning with the roar of a raucous concert audience, the hard beat of the drums on Jackson's stage, and his hypnotic swagger as he plays for thousands. If you were one of the millions of people who have seen the trailer for this film, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about (kudos to the promotional department of this film, as that, is an extremely engaging and powerful trailer) but it stems from an extremely engaging and powerful film. The music, much like it did with the trailer gets inside you, not just inside your head where you find yourself humming a gentle country lilt sang by Cooper, it gets inside your heart and soul and rattles around. It repeats over and over until you're the one who doesn't want to let go. While Cooper should be commended for taking his craft seriously and improving his singing, this is where Lady Gaga shines, to no one's surprise.
Ally is a perfect role for her. The performer has spoken about how vulnerable and ugly she felt in some scenes when shooting this film, but it made her so real on screen. Ally's career, much like the first half of the film, blasts off, and all you can do is hold on until you realize the songstress is belting a powerful ballad. You wonder, much like her character "how did we get here" but at that point, you're just happy to be along for the ride. It is a testament to Lady Gaga's ability, because being such an iconic figure, if it weren't for her conveyance of sincerity and humility, the character's journey would seem forced and unfulfilling. Because of Gaga's performance, however, you relish the moment Ally can finally embrace who she is and bravely belt out her songs with no inhibition. In a film with so many moments that grab you, the music is undeniably one of my favorite aspects. I can't wait for this film to get a wider release so the studio can also make the soundtrack available.
If and when Award season comes, and A Star is Born is undeniably a forerunner for several major awards, I think Cooper should be commended simply because as director, he brought everything together. The songwriters, the actors, the cinematography, the sound design was superbly balanced to create the best possible version of this story making it, the brightest star for both critics and audiences.
But before we get into all that, I have to start with the film's opening half hour, which is exceptional. Despite its long running time, there's so much packed into the opening act, and it's delivered with jaw-dropping passion and energy, to the point where I felt absolutely exhilarated by the film within such a short period of time.
The passion with which Bradley Cooper is directing the movie is clear from the opening scene, and as we see our superstar musician form an unlikely and unexpected bond with a young local singer, the film begins to tell that age-old story about finding fame in beautiful and riveting fashion.
In fact, in the knowledge that it's a story that you know like the back of your hand, Cooper ingeniously ramps the dial up to eleven as we watch our young up-and-coming star caught up in an exhilarating whirlwind as she is suddenly transported from a small waitressing job to singing in front of thousands, culminating in a stunningly moving musical sequence that feels like a true epiphany, as you watch this young woman overwhelmed as she gets her first taste of stardom, something that I was absolutely blown away by.
That opening half hour is truly exceptional. Full of emotion, drama and moving at a pace that mirrors the dramatic transformation from ordinary singer to superstar, it's exhilarating to watch at every moment, and easily the best opening act I've seen from a film this year, setting up the rest of the film fantastically.
Rather unfortunately, however, things don't quite pan out in the same stunning fashion through the rest of the movie. While the remained of A Star Is Born is still good, I was left feeling a little disappointed that it couldn't keep up that same exhilarating energy and emotion from the first act, as things quieten down and become a little more predictable.
Of course, there's nobody who doesn't know this story, so being predictable isn't as much of a problem, but what I found frustrating about the film was how it failed to keep delving deeper into the lives of the lead characters as their careers start flying in completely opposing directions.
As a director, Cooper did an incredible job with the opening half hour, and his passion for the subject matter remains strong throughout, but the problem comes in the way that he portrays the main points of this age-old story in a rather plain fashion, moving a little too readily onto each new stage in the two singers' careers without leaving enough time for things to settle.
In that, the film has a good pace to it that makes it a thoroughly entertaining watch right to the end, but with the exception of the opening act and the finale, there just isn't enough depth to the individuals here, leaving me a little detached from their emotions throughout the middle portion, and having to rely on my knowledge of the classic rags-to-riches story to understand more about what they were feeling.
So, a little bit more clarity and patience would have gone a long way here, and I would have been genuinely happy to watch another half hour or so of the film.
While the second two-thirds of the movie aren't so profoundly moving, that doesn't mean there's nothing to praise, because along with Cooper's passionate directing, we see two fantastic performances from the director himself as well as Lady Gaga.
Starting off with Bradley Cooper, his portrayal of an aging and fading star is thoroughly fascinating to watch. While he doesn't appear as the story's main focus, the quality of his performance is such that I was at times even more invested in his character than the rise of the starlet, as he pulls off the maturity and likability of his battle-hardened character while still putting in a powerful portrayal of his deeper weaknesses, something that makes him both delightfully appealing and still deeply interesting to follow throughout.
Alongside Cooper is Gaga, who is a real revelation here. Given that she's never been in a role of this magnitude before, her acting ability is truly stunning, and she gives a performance that's just as profound and striking as any experienced A-list actress. Taking from her own experience of life in the music business and her rise to stardom in real life, the passion that she feels for her character is clear in every scene, with that previously mentioned epiphany-inducing musical number 'Shallow' featuring the best example of her incredible acting.
She holds fantastic chemistry with Cooper, and the two make their characters' relationship both convincing and genuinely appealing, even through the inevitable ups and downs of the story, keeping your interest strong as the film moves through the story towards the finish.
In the end, I was very impressed with A Star Is Born. It's unfortunately not pitch-perfect all the way through, but after a mind-blowing opening act, and featuring passionate and likable directing and performances throughout, it proves a massively entertaining watch regardless, with some excellent music to boot.
Bradley Cooper proves himself as a strong director, and Lady Gaga is a revelation. Its like a whole new side of her. I highly recommend this movie.
In Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, he manages to instill life and a reasonable degree of freshness into a movie that had already been made three times previously. He clearly has a knack for capturing intimacy, and he uses that skill to make a movie that it deeply personal to himself, to co-star Lady Gaga, and to the characters they portray.
It's a remarkable achievement that this movie works. Cooper certainly deserves heaps of credit for his directing acumen and committed acting performance (he worked with a vocal coach for months to lower his speaking voice a whole octave). His voice is low, rumbling, and worn. He sounds like someone who has just finished coughing for four and a half days straight. It suits the character, Jackson Maine, who struggles with drinking and drug use, all while still managing to perform nearly every night in front of thousands of fans who adore his music.
One night he stumbles drunk into a bar and sees Ally (Gaga) performing. She wows him with her talent and inspires him ways that we sense he hasn't felt in years. In an approach that vacillates between creepy and romantic, he woos Ally by accepting her as she is, not who she thinks others want her to be.
The next night when she attends his show, he whisks her on stage to sing the song they wrote together. The crowd goes berserk and soon the two are touring the country together. As her level of fame rises, he warns her that she must dig deep into her soul to create her art or she will lose everything.
They each fight their own battles, his with drugs, alcohol and demons from his past, and hers with not letting fame change her. Cooper's character has more to work with, but it's Gaga who shines brightest on screen. We're all well aware of her immense musical talent, and now we know that she's also an exceptional actor, one who could find herself seriously in award conversation later this year.
She may not be the only one from this film in the award conversation. Cooper's acting and directing will rightfully garner consideration as well. He aptly handles an ambitious, emotional story that does not hold back in any way. Its lack of humility should probably cause its downfall, but that's not the case. Credit both Cooper and Gaga for pulling this off. It looks like two stars have been born.
From Ally's father, to Jack's friends and family, the performances were just perfect!
The best part for me, was how real they made this movie feel.
We all get caught up in thinking movie stars and musicians have it easy, that we forget that they are humans as well.
From witnessing what addiction can do to a person first hand, this one hit right at home for me.
You can see the evolution of the characters right before your eyes. From their best days to their worst.
Couple of comments: this is the 4th incarnation of "A Star Is Born". The previous version starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, from 1976, is the version I grew up with. While that movie's flaws were obvious, I nevertheless quite liked it. Now 42 years later comes this up-to-date remake. This marks the directing debut of actor Bradley Cooper, and what a debut it turns out to be! Cooper also co-produced, co-stars and co-wrote the script. Cooper's challenges/risks were formidable: would he be a credible "rock star"? More importantly, would he be a credible singer? Answer to both of those questions is a resounding YES. Even more surprising is Lady Gaga as Ally. Who knew she'd be able to give such a nuanced acting performance (obviously we already knew that she has the singing talent). The on-screen chemistry between these two leads is palpable, making the movie such much more believable. But wait! there is more! For me arguable the movie's best performance comes from Sam Elliot, as Jack's road manager (and elder brother). What a stage presence! The musical performances are generally speaking outstanding. Cooper's backup band features Lucas Nelson (son of Willie), who co-wrote most of the songs, and the Promise of the Real. It's fun recognizing some of the venues and festivals where the concert footage was filmed (I spotted both Coachella and Glastonbury, among others). The only criticism I have is that the movie, which is pretty much flawless in the first hour, is a bit overly long, in particular towards the end. But all in all, kudos to Cooper for taking on what could've been a disaster, but instead ends up being a remake of a timeless classic that is just right for this day and age.
"A Star Is Born" premiered at the Venice film festival in late August, to immediate and universal acclaim. The movie opened wide this past weekend. The Monday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was PACKED. Yes, on a Monday! I am going on record already that "A Star Is Born" not only will get multiple Oscar nominations early next year, it will in fact win the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, among others. I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
The movie has a simple but rich and compelling plot. In a fairy tale like beginning a talented struggling young singer meets and falls in love with a popular musician after a chance encounter and begins her ascent into music stardom. Of course what makes the movie so compelling is that it is also a precautionary tale about stardom and the impact it has an individual. The film also masterfully combines a tragic love story with a realistic depiction of alcohol abuse and depression. The film also manages to squeeze in a condemnation on modern manufactured music pushed out just to sell records. The movie had a lot to say, what did a great job saying it.
Acting wise I was very impressed with this movie. Bradley Cooper has really demonstrated his range over the years, but this was one of his most memorable performances. Of course he aptly played the role of a charismatic and popular celebrity well, but it was his human depiction of substance abuse and depression that stole the show. I should also mention that this was one of Sam Elliott's best performances in years.
On top of that I was absolutely floored by Lady Gaga's performance. Of course she was competing against a high pedigree of past actresses who have also portrayed this role, but she was outstanding. She managed to play both the mild-mannered insecure struggling artist and the rising pop musician in a believable manner. At times it felt like she was really living the role instead of acting. She also had a genuine chemistry with Bradley Cooper which really helped to sell their love interest.
Of course speaking of Lady Gaga I have to mention the incredible music performances in this role. I'm not normally a fan of her genre of music, but her voice was so powerful and layered it added an emotional intensity to all of her performances. The range and depth of her voice really added quite a bit to the movie. I will be very surprised if this film does not get nominated for best original song at the Oscars.
It should also be mentioned that Bradley Cooper not only starred but also directed in this film. It is quite brave to take on one of the most memorable stories in Hollywood as a first-time director. Bradley Cooper all around directed the hell out of this movie. The cinematography was great, the changes to the story were perfect, and he really captured what makes this such a compelling story. I look forward to his future endeavors as a director.
My only real criticism being there were a few scenes that seemed to drag on and repeat them self. The film could have been cut down by at least 15 minutes or so which would have helped to tighten the flow of the plot.
Overall I absolutely loved this movie. I think it was one of the best of 2018 and is the first serious Oscar contender of the year. It not only perfectly captured what makes the story special but added an additional element to make it feel original. Highly recommended, a 9.25 out of 10.
While the film's music and acting are superb, some notable lapses are present over the course of the movie's 135-minute running time. The first concern with the film that I have is that it does run a bit too long, and could have easily trimmed 20 or 25 minutes off its running time without sacrificing anything of importance. The film does, from time to time, take the unfortunate route of indulging in some cheesy clichés of romantic dramas. This isn't surprising, but it's a bit unfortunate for a film that otherwise feels fairly structurally unique despite being a remake of a film that has been made multiple times before. But at the end of the day, viewers who see this film are here for strong performances and a great soundtrack. On those merits, they will certainly be rewarded, and I do recommend this film for sure. 7.5/10