“A Star Is Born” is a remake of a film from the 1970s starring Barbra Streisand that was in turn a remake of a 1950s film starring Judy Garland, which in turn (I know) was a remake of a film from the 1930s . The point here is that this is a timeless tale that has seen several iterations. This one stars Bradley Cooper (who is also serving as Producer, Co-Writer, and Director) as country musician and professional masochist (kidding, but “self destructive” isn’t a bad adjective for this guy) Jackson Maine, who takes in a waitress/down-on-her-luck performer played by Lady Gaga after seeing her perform one night in a dingy gay bar, which almost immediately leads to romance, love, tragedy, and all other formulaic tropes of storytelling you’d expect from a romantic drama about country singers.
Gaga is initially the strong and troubled lead with Cooper providing a strong and troubled support, and at first glance at the film, you’d be forgiven by scoffing at it for being trite and overplayed. From the gay best friend that is always there to egg Gaga on to push herself forward (played by Anthony Ramos), to the cliche manager (played by the best damn deep voice on the planet Sam Elliott) of Jackson Main, who always has be picked up and cleaned off when he inevitably falls into a pit of drug-covered sludge. You could honestly take the plot of “A Star is Born” and begin to tick certain tropes off a checklist labeled “every movie ever,” but Director Bradley Cooper knows we know this, and uses these tropes as a basis to tell his version of the story. He opts not to tell a cliche story, but a timeless one.
There is a pureness to the film’s simplicity. It felt as real as a film can feel when someone who looks like Lady Gaga struggles to find the affection of others. What I mean by this is the pure raw emotion expressed by not only the filmmaking but the film’s content as well. There is a concept I often hold in the back of my mind when I watch a film, and that is how much respect it gives its audience. Sometimes it is piss-poor, and the filmmaker will use a sad background score to manipulate you into feeling sad; however, there are times where the filmmaker not only respects you, but challenges you, dares you even.
What Director Bradley Cooper does here is dares his audience to sit there and take the emotional onslaught he has presented, because he as the architect knows there is nothing you can do to stop it. You’re a helpless bystander, stuck between a silver screen and the event occurring behind it. And this is what makes “A Star is Born” so genius; there is an understanding of the audience’s expectations when walking into a film like this and then Cooper viciously subverts it into one of the best movies of the year.
The cast is fantastic in their mission to achieve Cooper’s relentless goal. The always-provocative Lady Gaga is stripped bare of all her stardom and forced to claw her way up the totem pole. Within her first scene we get a shot that perfectly symbolizes the work and effort given by Gaga for this film. She understands exactly who she is in our eyes when we first meet her character, and she uses this expectation to knock us off our feet with a personality that feels as down-to-earth as the everyday person who will sit down to view the movie. We get to watch Lady Gaga become Lady Gaga, and thus further extend the vision of the film’s director.
While “A Star Is Born” is not a perfect film (though I’ll be the first to argue that such a thing simply does not exist) it manages to handle itself in a way that blew this reviewer to the moon. We’re presented with the a story we all know (that of the romantic musical) and are then given a realistic tragedy. These are real people with real issues that we bear witness to. Its earnest execution is part of its charm, and reflects the humble beginnings of our surrogate lead. Every choice and progression in this story feels earned, and it seldom breaks our trust in its deliverance on consequences. Much how Damien Chazelle crafted 2016’s “La La Land,” we are given a tragic love story that’ll break your heart in all the right places while lifting your soul in others. It is a triumphant directorial debut for Bradley Cooper and an even more triumphant viewing experience for audiences.
My cynical nature can often be translated into the idea that I have cynical taste. This is simply not true. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. The typically sweet and kind-hearted films will usually get a positive score from this critic on the basis that their directors were able to properly craft their stories in a way that gets a visceral reaction. “Disney’s Christopher Robin” was, for a time, the best example in 2018 of honest and genuine filmmaking taking control of an otherwise formulaic and bland story and transforming it into something truly special. I can say that “A Star Is Born” has surmounted “Robin” for the “movie that broke Sherman down into a bubbling mess in a way that was so embarrassing he had to momentarily step out of the theatre” award.
It is a movie that hasn’t left my subconscious in the days since I’ve seen it, and I truly hope that it strums the same heartstrings for you.
Reviewed on a four-star scale.