A Star is Born is the third remake of the 1937 original of the same name— A Star is Born is continuously reborn, it seems—and for a well-trodden movie about the well-trodden subject of fame and its perils, the most remarkable thing about it is that it doesn’t feel more familiar.
A great part of that is owed to the characterization of leads Jackson and Ally (Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga), which favors specific unusual details—like Jackson’s tumultuous relationship with his brother 30 years older than him that make them feel more like real people than generic archetypes.
And while some of the beats of the story feel telegraphed and inevitable, Cooper shows enough subtlety in the direction of the film to avoid melodramatic and obvious plot points. Usually, the deal with a film like this is that you expect the music and performances to make up for a hackneyed story, so it’s a pleasant surprise that the expectedly great performances are joined by a story and script that holds their own weight.
While the film has many admirable qualities, it’s far from perfect. The second half seriously lags compared to the first, the film seems to have pretty little to say about the many subjects on which it touches—despite Cooper’s Jackson’s repeated emphasis on having something to say—and the very end is fairly hamfisted in a way the rest of the movie isn’t. But if you have any interest in movie musicals (and even if you don’t), A Star is Born will probably deliver what you’re looking for.
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
How does it compare to other recent musicals about performers?
Better than: La La Land
Worse than: Inside Llewyn Davis
My opinion of A Star is Born was like marinated Crock-Pot chicken. At first I was unsure and a bit impatient (2 hour 14 minute runtime....) but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the more succulent and delicious it became. By the next morning, I was listening to the soundtrack, wishing that I had some sort of musical talent and thinking that I should start humming to myself while in my office to prepare (insurance is a breeding ground for young artists, right? Right? Bueller?).
The movie follows Ally (Lady Gaga), a rising singer, and Jackson (Bradley Cooper), a country rock star, as they fall in love and Ally rises to fame while Jackson fights some inner demons. It's the fourth version of this movie and because I haven't seen any of the three previous versions of it, I took in this rendition with a fresh pair of eyes and ears. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga both nail their characters—Cooper as a rough and ragged rock star and Lady Gaga as an uncharacteristically understated singer with an amazing voice and a humble nature that seems authentic.
What I most enjoyed about the film was that it doesn't fall into the easy traps of a womanizer, alcoholic rock star and a country girl rising to fame and getting corrupted and vain in the process. It is understated and much more than that. There's more to the story and to the characters and it did not go where I was expecting it to go. It would have been easy to make the stereotypical movie about these tropes, but A Star is Born creates likable characters and a movie that feels different than other rise-to-fame tales. Lady Gaga is endearing in the role of Ally and Bradley Cooper is endearing in the role of Jackson; they're not over the top but they're just enough to make you like them and feel for them. The movie doesn't beat a dead horse with any of its storylines (except maybe the last 10 minutes) and aside from some pacing issues towards the end, it does a good job of showing the characters' evolutions while keeping the plot interesting. It made me believe that Gaga would show up to awards shows like this instead of in a meat suit and that Bradley Cooper would take the country music scene by storm.
I'm not even a big Lady Gaga fan, but the soundtrack is amazing (and who knew Bradley Cooper could sing?). Oscar buzz is already surrounding A Star is Born and for the first time since 2012 (Argo all the way), I'm on board.
This is a movie that feels like you need to see it with your full attention, phone down, lights dark; it's big and dramatic and enthralling and deserves a bucket of popcorn and surround sound. And maybe M&M's too.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Bring with you: Some may say bring tissues. I say bring a blank job application and your most recent degree because you will leave feeling less accomplished than Lady Gaga and hoping you get discovered somewhere mundane. (Wait, did nobody else felt that way?)