Bradley Cooper makes an auspicious directorial debut with A Star Is Born, an often dazzling and occasionally overwrought crowd-pleaser that soars with rousing music and plenty of pathos.
There have been four remakes since the original 1937 film, and while the story does hit many of the expected beats that line up with the previous iterations, Cooper and crew are able to find just the right notes to deftly bring this timeless tale up to date. Anchored by strong chemistry between the leads and some admirable technical aspects behind the camera, this awards season contender may have what it takes to score some serious Oscar gold next February.
Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking country singer whose best days are seemingly behind him until he meets a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) in a burlesque bar one evening. Blown away by her raw talent, Maine invites her on tour and after a guest performance that brings down the house, Ally begins to pursue her own music career first as a singer-songwriter and then later transitioning into pop superstardom.
As a romance blossoms between the two, their relationship is constantly tested by the rigorous pressures of the music industry and by the personal demons that continually drive Maine to the bottle.
Given how much Lady Gaga’s real-life career mirrors the trajectory of Ally’s character in the film, she was a smart choice for the lead role and proves that she has more to bring to the table on top of her stunning vocals. Her performance, both in scenes on and off the stage, feels natural and unrestrained in a way that most big-screen debuts typically do not. She and Cooper form a bond that’s not only believable for their characters but also makes it easy to root for them as a couple, too. A scene of confrontation between the two, during which ugly remarks are exchanged by one another, is hard to watch but played perfectly by the two performers.
While Cooper and Gaga play the rock stars in front of the camera, there’s also rock star talent behind the camera in the form of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, known for his work with director Darren Aronofsky. He captures the on-stage sequences with an immediacy that makes them jump off the screen and feel like we have a backstage pass to an exhilarating rock concert.
There are plenty of other eye-catching moments off-stage as well, including an especially a captivating close-up of Ally sharing a first glance with Jackson in a bar; the flawless composition of that shot in particular makes it especially memorable.
Of course, a film like this that’s so entrenched in the music industry lives and dies by the quality of its original music and A Star Is Born certainly does not disappoint in that area. The obvious stand-out is the slow-burn duet “Shallow,” whose name is probably being etched into the Best Original Song trophy as we speak, but other cuts like “Maybe It’s Time” and “Always Remember Us This Way” seem to have tremendous staying power as well. The combination of music and melodrama makes for a predictable but ultimately enjoyable movie that marks a promising start to Cooper’s career as a director and to Gaga’s career as an actress.
Note: This film was originally released the first weekend in October; it now returns to theaters for a limited IMAX engagement.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Mortal Engines, starring Hera Hilmar and Hugo Weaving, is a post-apocalyptic tale set in a world where entire cities compete with one another for limited resources while mounted atop gigantic vehicles.
The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, tells the true story of a World War II veteran in his 80s who became a drug courier for a Mexican cartel.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld, brings everyone’s favorite webslinger back to the animated world as he teams up with other versions of Spider-Man from alternate universes.