Being the third remake of the 1937 film bearing the same name, the 2018 rendition of “A Star is Born” effectively cements itself as the sort of Hollywood production fable akin to “The Magnificent Seven” in that it’s almost expected to be remade at some point to be reflective of the time in which it is made.
The reigns of the tale this time fall to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, portraying the poetic but tragically self destructive alcoholic rock star Jackson Maine and ambitious but meek aspiring musician Ally, who find themselves in a life changing romance that brings out their best and worst. What ensues is a rollercoaster ride of a relationship that is ostensibly a simply conceived story but executed far more masterfully than one would think that it has any right to be done.
Romantic dramas like this thrive on actor chemistry and the performances on display here are easily highlights of everybody’s careers. Bradley Cooper’s take on Jackson Maine displays a three dimensional and complex portrayal of depression and substance abuse disorder that never gets its due. Maine is a smart, passionate, and kind soul that is unfortunately haunted by the ghosts of his upbringing that drive him to subconsciously tear down those close to him not in agitation but in a clear effort to destroy his own life in habitual bouts of self loathing. He’s as fascinating and sympathetic to watch as his behaviors can be horrifying and groan inducing and if award season rumors are accurate, he easily deserves it and he’s far from alone.
Lady Gaga isn’t quite a total stranger to acting, but her gradual growth and transformation throughout the film through the highs and lows of an occasionally toxic yet ultimately beautiful relationship unfolding across a narrative of the importance for passionate artists to remain true to their talents in defiance of industry practices of overproduction that feels almost metatextually reflective of her own career has me wondering exactly what took her so long to pursue acting as a craft to begin with.
The leads aren’t the only ones that are stellar; Andrew Dice Clay proves that his stint in Woody Allen’s underappreciated “Blue Jasmine” was no fluke, Dave Chappelle returns to screen with far more range than he ever had as an actor when he was younger, and it’s almost goosebump inducing to see Sam Elliot actually giving a 110% performance rather than phoning it in the way he has in the twilight years of his career.
The true star of the show however is not the individual performances or the stupendous soundtrack, bolstered by terrific sound design that almost replicates the loud and overwhelming chaos of a sold out rock concert too well, but Cooper himself. In addition to easily giving an Oscar nomination worthy performance, Cooper cuts his teeth in the director’s chair for the film and he carries it with a level of seasoned confidence and effectiveness that most triple A directors don’t fall into until their second or third projects.
The filmmaking on display for the type of story being told here is just flat out jaw dropping. What he does with space and sound alone are unlike almost anything I’ve seen in recent history but the ability of the cinematography to weave in and out of a variety of different production techniques, going from concert documentary feel, to independent drama, to television production for in universe televised presentations is nothing shy of masterful. He’s definitely set the bar high for his sophomore outing.
Where “A Star is Born” does fall flat however, are in places that are theoretically minuscule but ultimately leave behind major impact. The third act definitely struggles to maintain balancing the two sides of the story and by the time that it has to set certain moments of major drama in action, it shows with a dip in quality that takes the film from feeling like the powerful and emotionally moving story of two real people with very real problems to jarringly feeling like a movie that has run its clock.
Those few narrative hiccups draw extra attention to a runtime that really could have used a trim. While I sat almost enraptured by everything happening on screen for about the first hour and fifteen minutes, the unpredictable structure of the narrative had me checking my watch one too many times as the endpoint never truly seemed to come up until it just suddenly does.
These flaws are certainly noticeable but I feel the need to stress that for a first time director remaking a narrative that has been well trodden at this point, the notion that these are the only major flaws is a god send and that the product in general is a career making stunner is even more remarkable.
“A Star is Born” is not only better than it has any right to be but is should be taught in film school courses regarding the level of power that a director has over any story that they’re handed, it’s Hollywood production values enhancing the humanity of the narrative rather than erasing and detracting from it.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.