Usually remakes are a product of Hollywood’s lack of ideas or refusal to try out something new, but once in a while there’s one that gives a contemporary touch to a classic story. Movies like “Oceans 11,” “Scarface” or “The Departed” became modern classics, and now we have to add actor Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut “A Star is Born” to that list.
Alt-country superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) plays every other day in sold-out stadiums as he tours America. The years on the road have taken their toll on him, and he is rarely seen without a bottle or pills, regularly blacking out after his gigs. One evening he asks his driver to make a stop at a bar they are driving by on the way to the airport, and he sees the disillusioned singer and songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) performing “La Vie En Rose.” Immediately captivated by her talent, he invites her to his next gig. Reluctantly Ally agrees, but she is shocked when Jackson pulls her on stage to perform a duet of her song, “Shallow.” In its wake, Ally not only rises quickly to stardom, but she and Jackson also fall in love. However, his drinking problem soon casts a shadow over their relationship.
“A Star is Born” is the third remake of the movie with the same title from 1937, but, when the camera follows Jackson onto the stage in front of thousands of fans, it is clear this movie offers something new. Never before has a feature film so closely replicated a real concert experience, which is why this should be watched in a Dolby-certified theater.
Debut director Cooper filmed the concert scenes at Coachella and Glastonbury festivals, and also at a Lady Gaga gig in Boston, and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (well-known as Darren Aronofsky’s regular behind the camera) captures those goosebump-inducing scenes with long tracking shots and 360-degree pans. The way he uses lens flares will make J.J. Abrams jealous, and he stays very close to the actors. He unleashes the camera on the stage and gives quiet scenes the necessary distance; it’s definitely one of the finest performances in cinematography this year.
This authenticity is further underlined by Lady Gaga’s stellar performance. Obviously, as an avid singer, she masters the singing part of her role without breaking a sweat, but her performance off the stage is what really makes this movie brilliant. She portrays her character with all the flaws and insecurities of an unsuccessful singer who never got the chance to show her skill set, but also the strength stemming from that rejection. For a singer in her first leading role, this is an achievement that will surely give her many award nominations in the coming season, including the Oscars.
Her screen partner and director Bradley Cooper is just as good, but, as a four-time-Oscar-nominee, that’s less of a surprise. His portrayal of Jackson’s alcoholism goes beyond clichés, and he delivers a nuanced performance of a complicated character — a talented musician struggling with his own demons. The fact he not only directed himself in this movie, but also produced and co-wrote it, shows Cooper at his career-best thus far .
However, all of that wouldn’t matter if the chemistry between the two didn’t work. The casting is brilliant and at no time does the viewer question the feelings the two have for each other. The rest of the ensemble, including Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliot and Dave Chappelle, support them through solid performances.
The only minor weakness of the movie is its predictability and a few minor flaws in the storytelling. Too many things are merely hinted, and often it’s not clear how much time goes by during Ally’s rise to fame. This never spoils the movie, but does keep it from being perfect.
It is also noteworthy that Cooper, particularly in his debut film, never goes the easy route by manipulating the viewer into seeing something that’s not there. The feelings appear to be real, and the love story never gets tacky. Cooper is a talented director with a bright future.
Rarely, if ever, has a film about musicians been so gripping, concert scenes so authentic and a love story so natural. Minor flaws hardly interrupt this excellent music drama and the performances in front of as well as behind the camera officially kick off the award season this fall. Even if you aren’t into country or pop music, this movie will not let you down!
Overall rating: 9/10
A Star is Born (2018)
Directed by Bradley Cooper
Produced by Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Todd Philips, Lynette Howell Taylor
Written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Edited by Jay Cassidy
135 min, R-rated