By Jack Dignan
I think the moment I truly realised how powerful this movie is was during a semi-early performance of “Shallow,” in which Bradley Cooper’s always-sunburnt Jackson Maine brings up on stage Lady Gaga’s insecure Ally for a performance she never thought she’d get the chance to experience. The scene itself is fantastic, but what’s even more impressive is that, before seeing this movie, I’d already listened to “Shallow” enough times that I’d basically memorized it, and yet when watching Gaga finally get the chance to perform it, and seeing a thousand different emotions rush through her face at once, tears were brought to my eyes for the first of many times during this movie.
This is not the first time that A Star Is Born has been brought to the big screen, and hey, it may not even be the last. Remaking a movie for the fourth time may seem like a bad, derivative and uninteresting idea, but Bradley Cooper’s soaring directorial debut is anything but. This is a story as old as stories, but it’s one that still feels fresh and contemporary. Sam Elliot gives a really moving speech in this film about how all music is the same 12 notes between any octave over and over, and all an artist needs to do is find a way to make that personal. That speech is, in a nutshell, this movie, and Cooper’s certainly found a unique perspective.
It’s a story of love, passion and struggling to confront our inner demons. Cooper’s portrayal of Jackson Maine, or Jack as he prefers to be called, is complex and emotional. His love for Alley brings her great success, but it comes during a low point in his life when he’s forced to take a look at the way his drug addiction and alcoholism is shaping who he’s becoming. Her career is on the rise, his is plummeting down, and if he’s not careful, he could tear hers down with him. There’s a constant fear of where this film could be heading, and as the conclusion draws near, my heart was racing, but A Star Is Born absolutely sticks the landing.
Every moment feels etched in raw emotion and unadulterated admiration for these two lead characters. While Jack is an unpredictable drunk, Ally is pure and sweet, yet their love works. There’s a persistent sadness that oozes into their every conversation, especially as Jack’s jealousy towards her career grows stronger and is consequently shifted into another drink, but their love and chemistry feels so real that you can’t help but fall in love with them. Gaga and Cooper shine. These are two of the best performances of the year. They made me cry four times. I wish that were a joke.
While she’s done some TV appearances and the occasional movie cameo, A Star Is Born sees Lady Gaga’s first real feature film performance, and what a way to kick things off. She is, obviously, one of the greatest voices of our generation, but her role here is so much more than just a voice. Every line is brimming with effortless authenticity. She captures every emotion within her character’s psyche and squeezes the life out of us with each new scene. But beyond that, when she performs she performs. The musical sequences capture her inner thoughts and complications, as Gaga’s able to not just give us one hell of a show, but further the character’s personal arc in the process. They go beyond mere concert sequences.
I’ve been blasting to the soundtrack on repeat since the moment I left the premiere glassy eyed and in a state of shattered emotions, and I imagine I’ll continue to listen to it for many years to come. This film is musical masterpiece. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous movie that’s as real as it is visually beautiful. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is some of the best I’ve ever seen from him, which is saying a lot after a career of working with Darren Aronofsky, crafting some of his most meticulous and stunning feature films, including recent polarizer Mother! Rest assured, A Star Is Born is far more crowd pleasing, and certainly more of an awards season darling.
The first and third acts of this film are so perfect that I almost want to forgive it for some slight missteps towards the middle. There’s a ten to fifteen minute sequence that’s incredibly choppy as it skims through Ally’s rise to fame without any semblance of narrative coherence. It’s scene followed by scene followed by scene, but none of them play off of what’s already come. It feels like a montage that’s not actually a montage, but Cooper still manages to maintain some of the strongest skills I’ve ever seen in a directorial debut and Sam Elliot knocks it out of the park in his supporting role. Once the film finds its footing again, there’s nothing it can’t do. A Star Is Born is a story that deserves to live forever, and it’s this adaptation that’ll ensure it does.
4 1/2 Stars
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