Friday, October 5, 2018

'A Star is Born' Review: Bradley Cooper's Directorial Debut Is Perfection

It's a story likely older than anyone reading this. The original film iteration of A Star is Born was released in 1937. A starry eyed young actress makes the move to Hollywood with dreams of making it big. There she meets a washed-up older actor, whose best days are clearly behind him, and through him she finds her way to make her dreams reality. The 1954 remake, starring the great Judy Garland, followed this same path.

The 1976 film starring Barbra Streisand took a slightly different approach. It traded out acting for music, and her character Esther Hoffman finds her way while falling in love with the washed up John Norman Howard, played by Kris Kristofferson.

And here we land in 2018, with the new remake being the first time directorial effort of actor Bradley Cooper, who also stars. He stars opposite Lady Gaga, in a piece of casting that initially made many people nervous. I'm here to tell you that any fear was unwarranted; this movie is essentially perfect.

If you, like me, have never seen any of the past iterations of this story, here's the gist. Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a rock star on his way out. He drinks incessantly, and dabbles in drugs, and is more often than not going to the stage barely conscious. Lady Gaga plays Ally, a singer/songwriter who works a menial job, and who got burned in the music industry because of the way she looks. The two meet and begin to fall in love. They serve as each other's muse, and both find new inspiration in each other.

It would be easy for this story to feel contrived, and even problematic in a modern context. A movie where a female singer only becomes successful because of a man would cause my eyes to roll back in my head so hard that they rocket out of the back of my skull. Luckily, however, this film is very far from that. Cooper's Jackson merely opens the door for Gaga's Ally, and he leaves it up to her to step through that door. Everything she earns in this film she earns on her own talent.

This is by and far Bradley Cooper's finest performance to date. Despite being a multiple time Academy Award nominee, none of his performances have really clicked for me. But his performance as Jackson Maine was completely revelatory to me. The character feels so weathered and lived-in. Even if the film never explored his past, just in Cooper's expressions and mannerisms you see all you need to know about where the character comes from.

Lady Gaga has had several other roles in film and television up to this point. She was featured in Machete Kills, American Horror Story, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. But in A Star is Born she is truly incredible. She feels so natural, and is clearly drawing from her own experience in her real-life rise to stardom. The chemistry she builds with Cooper is so real and palpable, it feels like they sucked all of the sexual tension out of the rest of the world.

Also, expect this film's original music to permeate mainstream culture for the next several months. It's going to be like Frozen's "Let it Go," but for adults. The main song from the trailer, "The Shallow" has already caught on like wildfire, and is only going to get bigger. But some of the other songs like "Maybe It's Time" and "I'll Never Love Again" are also extremely catchy and emotional. It would be easy for me to believe that every nominee in this year's Best Original Song Oscar to be a song from this film.

And speaking about awards season, it's hard not to imagine that this film sweeps every major award this year. And it deserves it. It is beautiful, and emotional, and presses all the right buttons. And for a first time director, it's a real marvel to behold.

I give A Star is Born a 5 out 5. It's playing now.

(I swear I occasionally don't rate movies as perfect. 2018 just rules.)