"A Star Is Born" (2018) Movie Review
Bradley Cooper and his Directorial Debut...
There are some directorial debuts that are just fine and there are others that are complete train wrecks. Bradley Cooper knocked his debut right out of the park because this film is one of the best I've seen all year. I loved this movie and it even pulled some legitimate tears from my eyes, which is saying a lot because I've also seen the 1976 adaptation of "A Star Is Born" starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand; a film I also love.
If you haven't seen any of the previous iterations of "A Star is Born" or don't know the plot then here is a synopsis; Jackson Maine is a drug addicted alcoholic musician with his career going on a steady decline, one night runs into a girl named Ally in a bar who is an unknown singer with the potential to really do something with her talents. From there a love starts to bloom as Jackson helps Ally start off her career while he battles his own demons of depression, regret and addiction. I have to say that this film is an emotional powerhouse. There is some real impactful human drama here that is made all the more poignant by the actors who do an incredible job.
With a film like this, pretty much everything can fall apart if the romance isn't believable. Luckily with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in the lead roles, the chemistry is amazing between the two and one hundred percent believable in every scene. From the start of the movie it is apparent that these two people are somewhat of a mess, but in completely different ways; Cooper's character is a hardcore alcoholic that is squandering his music career away while Gaga's character lacks motivation and confidence to do anything more with her singing. However, when they find each other it's clear that they supply a lot of positivity to one another, such as Jackson finding a rekindled love for creating music and Ally finds the confidence to put herself out there. However, with those positives also comes consequences. These two actors, without a doubt, convey a truly authentic feeling love that can be seen clearly throughout the film; because of that it is easy to be charmed by their romance and route for them when things hit a down swing.
Every conversation in the film feels real, I don't just mean the ones between the two romantic leads, but the entire cast. There's just something about the dialog that comes across as discussions I could picture myself or anyone having, rather than something cleaned up and manipulated to fit the Hollywood world. When Jackson and Ally are talking about music or just getting to know each other, it feels heartwarming but never cynically "cute". Or if two characters are fighting, it could have come across as melodramatic, but here it feels legitimate and relatable. Speaking of characters in conflict, Sam Elliot also plays a supporting character in the film as Jackson's older brother and Elliot is brilliant in the role. There are scenes where Elliot doesn't even have to say a word, but the performance that he gives just in his face alone says everything you need to know and it hits hard; especially in one scene in particular between Elliot and Cooper that really tugged at the heart strings, I don't want to say too much as to what is said but there is a moment of silence for Sam Elliot after Cooper leaves the scene that was really emotionally difficult to watch because of his performance. And I mean that in the best way possible.
That reminds me, there's another silent moment in the film involving solely Bradley Cooper that really delivered such a strong emotional response for me. It was towards the end of the film, again, I won't say exactly what is happening but the whole scene starts with a somber tone that ramps up with suspense in anticipation as to what this character is going to do. Then with one look on Cooper's face, you understand everything that is going on in this guy's head and I couldn't help but get choked up. It was terribly difficult not to simply cry through whole scenes because of the tragedy going on in these people's lives. That's one of the great things about this movie, I forget that these are even characters, I feel like I am getting a peek into real peoples' lives. The movie really hit me right in the gut with one of its final shots involving Jackson Maine and Ally. When it got to that moment, I'm not going to lie, I shed a lot of tears...I mean...I'm a manly man, I don't feel feelings. Feelings are stupid...I need another tissue.
One brilliant thing that I would like to touch on is the cinematography; as a whole it is terrific, but there is something specific that this film does that I absolutely love. Throughout the entire romance there are these really specific moments that happens between these two characters that are made to feel even more significant because when they happen it switches to Jackson's point of view. Such as when they look directly at each other for the first time, the camera switches to Jackson's point of view staring right at Ally's face. When it is their wedding day, Jackson and Ally are standing at the alter and say 'I do', the camera briefly looks right at Ally's face. And then at the end it does it again, but in a slightly different way that I won't say. For me, this was a genius way to help the audience fall for this girl and understand exactly what is going on with these characters internally. Another technique the cinematography takes is how it films Jackson when he's intoxicated or high; a lot of the time it takes a while for the camera to give a full look at Jackson's face and everything feels just slightly off kilter. I thought that was a cool way to make certain scenes feel kind of odd and even on edge, much like how it is when you're in a room alone with someone who's completely drunk and you're sober. There's just a different vibe in the room, I think anyone who's been there knows what I'm talking about.
The music of this movie blew me away. I was in awe of how much character and story could be fleshed out in just a single song. But again, the actors pull it off perfectly. Whenever they have to perform on stage or they're just simply playing along together in a private setting, it is made wildly clear how these people feel and what is going through their heads. When Lady Gaga's character is somewhat coerced into singing live on stage with Jackson for the very first time, you get everything going on with her in that moment. The terror of failure, the excitement of singing to a crowd full of thousands of people, the joy in finally letting go, back to fear, back to excitement. It's a flawless performance honestly that's made even better with the use of very long takes. Instead of constantly cutting, the editing is very minimal while you get a full look at everything going on with her. Lady Gaga really was a bright spot in this already great film, I loved her in this movie and cannot wait to see what she does next.
A funny little tidbit about this movie is that it has a lot of supporting cast members who are comedians; Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, and Eddie Griffin to name the ones that I noticed. Andrew Dice Clay plays Ally's father and he's surprisingly really solid. I've never seen him outside of comedic roles before and I've certainly liked him in those, but never in a dramatic role like this and I think that he nailed it. Dave Chappelle, while briefly in the movie, also does a fantastic job and I actually kind of wanted to see him more in the film interacting with Jackson.
Overall, I think this is one of the best remakes that I have ever seen. A bold statement, I know, but this is a bold movie. It doesn't pull punches or ever feel manipulative, it's raw and heartbreaking and beautiful. I said it before, I'll say it again, I love this movie. The acting is perfect, the editing and cinematography is outstanding, and the story solid; possibly more so than any of the other adaptations quite honestly. If you're emotionally stable enough to make it through a heavy romantic tragedy then this is well worth your time. Check it out as soon as you can, if nothing but to feel something great.
A Star is Born: On Amazon
© 2018 John Plocar