Movie Review: A Star is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
by Jason Koenigsberg
What was once in pre-production for many years with Eastwood’s name attached to direct Beyonce at one point, the long-gestating remake of A Star is Born now finally gets to see the light of day and this remake was well worth the wait. Bradley Cooper stars as the lead and makes a confident directorial debut. He picks up the reins where Eastwood left off and he obviously learned a lot from working with Clint on American Sniper (2014). This film has a minimalist style and sharp cinematography. His costar Lady Gaga really makes the most of her time and proves to the world that she is ready for her close up. Both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have undeniable on-screen chemistry and that makes this newest version of A Star is Born worth the price of admission.
The opening shot is Bradley Cooper stumbling around on stage popping some pills and chasing them with alcohol right before he is about to perform a concert at a big venue. This sets up the audience to expect a redemption story since they can assume his character is going to have a big fall due to substance abuse. Other early scenes make it clear that Cooper is an alcoholic. The viewer then gets to see the life of Lady Gaga’s character as she breaks up with a boyfriend over the phone in a public restroom stall. She is set up as a hard on her, working-class luck woman at a dead-end job with an obvious singing talent. This is the fourth iteration of A Star is Born and the most recent one starred Barbra Streisand as the female lead in 1976. There are similarities between Lady Gaga and Streisand. Both are gifted singing talents and Lady Gaga really does get a chance to show that she can act and is worthy of having this star vehicle for her. Also, both Streisand and Lady Gaga do not have the conventional movie star look, yet both have managed to get past their appearances to become well respected and very successful as multitalented entertainers. There is even a discussion between Cooper and Gaga about how Gaga’s nose is, which would make almost any viewer (of a certain age) immediately think of Barbra Streisand. Both the leads give genuinely endearing performances that overcome script weaknesses of being cliche and rely on an overuse of profanity. There are some scenes in A Star is Born where the characters use foul language so much that the words lose their meaning. Only Tarantino, Scorsese and David Mamet can utilize that much profanity in a script and still make it feel natural.
The main characters may have a discussion about a nose, but it is their eyes that do the majority of the speaking. Cooper and Gaga express a lot in their eyes to each other and to the audience. A lot of scenes do not even need words or the words they speak are irrelevant because it seems that the real intense dialogue is taking place with their eyes. That is no easy task for any actor, especially for a pop star making her serious motion picture debut. Lady Gaga does sing her heart out in a few scenes and Bradley Cooper is no slouch behind the microphone either. He spends most of the movie with his head down in a drunken stupor but his eyes shine when they need to and he passes as a real musician in the scenes he needs to perform. At the beginning of A Star is Born both of these characters are lost for a purpose in life. He is looking for someone to love to fill the empty void in his life. She is finding herself and needs help getting over her fear of success and stage fright since she is self-conscious and has been told many times that she does not have the right ‘look’ to be a singer. They have a symbiotic romance. She needs him for her music career and professional aspirations, whereas he needs her for his mental and emotional well being so his addictions do not take over his life. A Star is Born is a showcase for both of their stars acting and musical talents, that is about it.
For better or for worse that is the best aspect of A Star is Born. This movie is nothing original and it has literally all been done before, but despite that this movie has enough to say about the music industry and the showbusiness connections with drug addiction and mental illness that it feels important as events unfold and it sure manages to stay entertaining and keep the audiences emotionally invested. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga both have a lot to prove in A Star is Born. Cooper wants to prove that he can become a viable actor and director and he succeeds. His finest scenes as a director (beyond his tender moments with his costar) involve creating that wonderful feeling of anticipation that fans get at a concert right as the lights go out and the band is about to come on. Cooper captures that beautifully on more than one occasion. Lady Gaga wants to prove that she has the acting chops to carry a movie and she does, and now is likely to follow in the footsteps of Cher and Madonna presumably with more acting offers to come her way. The movie is not perfect but excels in what it set out to do. It is also admirable that there are no antagonists in A Star is Born, the only villains are the characters internal demons. There are other characters that are motivated to keep Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga apart but their motivations never come off as selfish or evil, only as professionals or relatives that are either trying to do their jobs or help the people they love. A Star is Born is an easy film to recommend and one that will be a landmark in both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s careers.