A Star is Born (2018) by Bradley Cooper
Review by Zach Dennis
Nothing surprised me more at the festival than my overwhelming enjoyment and appreciation of the latest of A Star is Born — this time directed by and starring Bradley Cooper alongside Lady Gaga. The film is widely uneven, featuring an electric first half that simmers into a tepid second half before a bittersweet, and almost melancholy, ending.
The story is much the same. Cooper plays washed up rock star, Jackson Maine, who comes upon Allie (Lady Gaga) while she is performing at a drag show. The two hit it off and enjoy another drink, a punch (not at each other) and a conversation outside a grocery store.
The courtship is effective because Cooper films it in an intimately public way that not only evokes the notion of this rock star coming across a “nobody” and hanging out with them (I would guess that they wouldn’t head to some world-renowned restaurant immediately) and plays into this persona of Jackson Maine as the working man’s star (A reason I saw him as a mix between Bruce Springsteen and Chris Cornell).
This working class mentality bleeds through the filmmaking as their first date feels timeless and leisurely — stopping the clock for awhile to just let these people live and breath rather than compete for quips and jokes in order to impress the other. Instead, it feels natural. Gaga (the true stand-out of the movie) has such a free-flowing rapport with Cooper, and this unpretentiousness evoked the relaxing nature of Jacques Tourneur, who slowed time because getting to know and feeling for the characters requires patience.
The patience doesn’t last too long as the magic fades and Allie earns a record deal and begins to have her star shot to the top. The rise doesn’t include Jackson as he begins to fade into the background and returns to the booze and drugs of his early years for consoling.
It would be easy to discredit this movie due to the fact that it is the fourth remake of this story that has not changed as much as you’d expect since 1937, but Cooper is smart to incorporate elements of modern stardom that weren’t relevant or even anticipated in any of the other iterations. Dedicating time to explore addiction and mental health feels especially prescient to Cornell or Chester Bennington, and even broadly with someone like Kate Moss or Anthony Bourdain. Not only that, but the institution of social media and its effects on culture at large is a giant enough shift to demand exploration even if the story lays too heavily on old tropes.
I’ll be interested to see where Cooper goes next as a director as he shows promise in this one, not only with the narrative but also technically. In multiple instances, he goes with a medium close-up shot on a face (usually Gaga) and holds long enough to allow the emotions to pour out. In one case, we watch as Allie enters the stage after Jackson asks her to sing her song at his gig. The camera holds on Gaga as she moves from backstage to the mic, and as the uncertainty turns to courage — creating a moment of pure movie bliss.
A Star is Born will naturally turn its attention to awards season as I’m sure it’ll be a heavy favorite, but I’m hoping people won’t just view it under that lens. I’m impressed with it and the amount Cooper was able to do with a first film.