REVIEW: A Star is Born
I was just out of 8th grade when I watched Bradley Cooper play Face in A-Team.
It was the first time I saw him act, and even from the cheap smelly seats of my local dollar theater, he charmed the heck out of me. Since then my love has only grown for the man. Limitless, Place Beyond the Pines, Silver Linings Playbook, Guardians of the Galaxy, the guy has an undeniable technique and miles of range.
When I heard he was going to be directing and co-starring with Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born, I thought "Good for him!" And after watching I still think "Good for him!" But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tad disappointed.
The plot is simple enough. A tortured superstar named Jack discovers the talent of an unknown vocal dynamo named Ally. Jack thrusts Ally into the limelight at one of his shows. They start a romance. Ally climbs the ladder of success. Things get wild.
Overall, it’s not a bad film. The supporting cast all get their due diligence (gah I love Sam Elliot), the time jumps were executed with a deft hand, and I thought the songs were rad. A Star Is Born has a LOT to say about celebrity, love, addiction, art, legacy, family, marriage, passion, (I could list on and on) and it does so with subtle gusto. Cooper tackles all of these concepts with a performance that screams empathy and pain all at once, and as expected, he modernizes the troubled soul archetype while putting his ridiculous talent on full display.
But what I really wasn’t expecting was Lady Gaga’s performance! In my opinion, her acting ironically outshines Cooper’s by the finale and I can’t wait to watch what she does next. Ally is both powerful and delicate, smart but impulsive, confident but self-conscious. She’s this beautiful contradiction in the way that all humans are, and it makes the budding pop star feel all the more real. Gaga’s nuance elevates the entire story into something truly special and if anyone deserves an Oscar nod for A Star is Born, it’s her.
My problems with film start to arise when you get into stuff like tonality, camerawork, set design, etc. There’s a point where you become so obsessed with seeming genuine that you actually forget what the word means and instead come across as a little fake, and unfortunately, that’s what happened here. Shaky close ups, spacious dialogue, and a few oddly framed low voice grumbles to really try sell you on how gritty and realistic things are. At least half of the emotion is swallowed by crappy little details that do more to distract than drum up emotion. The characters and plot still hit home, but they have to work through all this other garbage to do it, and because of this I can’t give it any more than a 3.5.
It’s not that the movie is inauthentic, but rather, it’s constantly fighting with itself to seem more real. Like that one dude in your dorm who brought a dulcimer home from Summer break and is just soooo into slam poetry. Like, he probably is into slam, and I doubt he bought that dulcimer just for show, but he REALLY wants you to know that he’s likes these small artisanal things and “isn’t like the standard crowd.”
Maybe I’m being too nit-picky? Maybe my expectations were too high for a first-time director? Maybe my senses were just a tad dulled coming right out of visual powerhouse Bad Times at the El Royal? Regardless, I was disappointed in A Star is Born upon my first viewing. It’s good not great.
…I still love you though Bradley.