Originally created back in 1937, A Star is Born has seen multiple iterations with the latest bringing together actor Bradley Cooper, making his directorial debut, and musician Lady Gaga, making her first appearance in a significant acting role. The film, which was both a critical and box office hit as a theatrical release, was nominated for a Golden Globe and is also up for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards.
Following yet another concert, country musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) decides he’d like to go out for a drink and ends up at a drag bar. While there, a woman named Ally (Gaga) performs, and Jackson is awed by her ability. He goes backstage to meet her, and the two of them end up hanging out for the rest of the night where Ally continues to dazzle Jackson with her ability to write songs on the spot.
Jackson decides to invite Ally to his next show, and after initially refusing she relents and is flown on a private plane. Once there, Jackson calls her on stage to perform a duet of a song she wrote the night before. A recording finds its way to YouTube, and Ally quickly becomes famous. She starts to do more and more stuff with Jackson on stage, while off of it the two quickly fall in love. After one show Ally is approach by record producer Rez (Rafi Gavron), who offers to sign her.
As Ally’s career is taking off, Jackson begins to struggle with dependency issues (alcohol and drugs), a strained relationship with older brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) and mixed feelings about Ally’s ascent into stardom. Even in the midst of this, the two get married and remain in love, but as Jackson’s alcoholism continues to negatively affect Ally’s career the strain becomes greater.
Let’s start at the top. Both Cooper and Gaga are excellent in their starring roles to the point that you fully believe they are those characters. To that end, there’s no doubt some of Ally’s struggles came from Gaga’s own experiences — she confirms as much in the supplemental materials — such as the size of her nose. Cooper is great as Jackson, too, showing legitimate skill as a musician and being every bit the functional alcoholic seen in so many “behind the music” documentaries.
Despite not being our preferred genre of music, the stuff that was created for A Star is Born is actually quite good. That’s certainly not easy, and it’s the Achilles’ heel of many films based on fictional music groups or singers. Here we found ourselves actually thinking about the lyrics and even quietly singing a line or two.
We really enjoyed the way things were filmed and presented, particularly the concert performances. There aren’t any tricks here. These are the real people on stage in front of real crowds with a cameraman or two circling them as they perform. That’s it. Cooper also uses a lot of unique framing and angles during the quieter times, and the result is a film that’s visually interesting from start to finish.
Casting Sam Elliot as Cooper’s older brother was a stroke of genius, as the long-haired country crooner version of Bradley Cooper is reminiscent of Roadhouse-era Elliot. He gets some of the film’s more emotional sequences and handles them beautifully. Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay also do good work in minor but important roles — and wow, does mid-40s Dave look different than The Chappelle Show version.
Although we really enjoyed the film overall, we felt the ending was a little too predictable and done to maximize an emotional response. Yes, things like that do happen, but Jackson’s spiral down seems to happen too quickly, and the idea that one catty conversation with Ally’s agent was enough to push him over the edge seemed a bridge too far. It also felt like Rez was really exposing himself in the process as he could’ve easily been fired as a result if word got back to Ally.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s a surprisingly interesting 30-minute “making of” feature that makes up the entirety of the non-musical extras. Granted, some of the “you’re great, no, you’re great” couch talk with Gaga, Cooper, Elliot and others can be a bit much, but there’s also some good tidbits about how the film was made and the preparation that went into it. It’s a nice complement to the feature.
Excellent casting, strong performances and engaging cinematography make A Star is Born well deserving of its Best Picture nomination.