*Don’t worry little monsters, this is a non-spoiler review!*
Don’t forget the tissues because this film will surely leave you in tears. This is the fourth telling of this story but it might as well have been the first due to Bradley Cooper’s vision for the film. A Star is Born follows Jackson Maine, played by Bradley Cooper, an alcoholic country rockstar who just wants to make music and drink his cares away. Jack meets Ally, played by Lady Gaga, a down on her luck waitress who has an amazing voice but doesn’t believe in herself. The film shows their journey of falling in love and the pitfalls of fame and having to navigate those challenges together.
Bradley Cooper is truly a tour de force, directing, acting & co-writing in this film. For a directorial debut, it feels like he has been making movies all his life. The concert scenes feel like you are on stage with the performers, like you are part of the show. I’ve never experienced watching a concert that way in a movie before. It usually comes across as artificial and “staged” but not in this film. The sound design transports you right into the crowd. You could have easily convinced me this was a real music documentary due to how all the concert footage was shot. Cooper also takes this intimacy into his scenes with Gaga. He uses a lot of close ups and over the shoulder shots that suck you into their love story. You believe they are falling in love with each other because as an audience member you are falling in love with them too. As far as his acting in the film, Cooper utterly transforms into Jack. He has a growling, cracked, deep voice and you completely believe that he is drunk most of the film. It it so hard to convincingly act buzzed or drunk and it not seem over the top or trying too hard but Cooper’s mannerisms, the way he slurs some of his words but not all, and even his walk, all convey a masterful portrayal of a man struggling with the disease of alcoholism. Since he plays it so honestly you can’t help but love him despite his many struggles. We haven’t even gotten to his voice! Who knew Bradley Cooper could sing? I would buy his character’s album right now. The country/rock jam band sound of Jackson Maine is electric and the songs could be on the radio today.
As much as this movie is a showcase for Bradley Cooper, it would not have had the emotional authenticity it did without the performance of Lady Gaga. She is Ally. For a musical superstar of her caliber to convince an audience that she is about to perform on a huge stage for the first time and for us to buy into her feelings of nervousness and reluctance is a credit to her as an actress. When she is performing as Ally you see Ally, not the superstar Lady Gaga. Being a huge Gaga fan myself, you can even pick up on subtle differences in her voice and how she is singing with some slightly different inflections than her usual sound. This role was tailor made to Gaga’s strengths and she knocks it out of the park. From the first scene we are introduced to her, we understand her character’s motivations and get a sense of her fiery personality. The chemistry between her and Cooper’s character leaps off the screen. Their scenes together feel like people having a real conversation and not reciting scripted lines. It almost feels as though we are watching a reality tv program about their lives. You fall in love with the earnest, vulnerability of Ally at the beginning of the film just like Jack did, so it becomes even harder to stomach how she subtly changes once she gets thrust into the pop world and loses some of that authenticity that she started with.
Although this story centers around Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s characters, the supporting cast should not be overlooked. Sam Elliott gives a heartfelt performance as Cooper’s much older brother Bobby. I felt myself wanting more scenes of the brothers together because of Cooper and Elliott’s instant kinship. Andrew Dice Clay gives a fun and layered performance as Ally’s father. Her interactions with him being a former alcoholic definitely help you understand Ally’s relationship to Jack. Anthony Ramos, of Hamilton fame plays Ally’s best friend Ramon. They truly seemed like best friends and their camaraderie was a highlight of the film. Rounding out the cast is Dave Chappelle, playing Jack’s best friend George ‘Noodles’ Stone. With not many dramatic credits to his name, Chappelle takes this small role and gives a nice believability and ease to it.
The film is a tad long, coming in at just over 2 hours, with the first half having a better flow than the second but you don’t notice as much due to the emotional investment in the love story Cooper and Gaga are weaving together. This rendition of A Star is Born has so much heart that it will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. It showcases a touching love story, poignant songs and a sobering look at what alcoholism and depression does to a person and the people they love.
Keep a lookout during awards season because this definitely will garner some Golden Globes and Oscar nominations. I would venture to say you can expect nominations for Gaga and Cooper in the acting categories as well as directing for Cooper. Of course the category of Best Original Song is most likely it’s best chance of garnering a win seeing as the soundtrack boosts many great choices from ‘The Shallow’, ‘Look What I Found’ and ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. This would also be the perfect opportunity to have Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform one or two of these songs live before the Hollywood audience, seeing as Gaga has an excellent track record with Oscar performances. Speaking of the soundtrack, I highly recommend picking it up as it includes songs that didn’t make it into the movie and dialogue interludes between each song.
*All images courtesy of © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. & Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. via imdb.com