Genre: Drama and Musical Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Release Date: October 5th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Bradley Cooper Actors: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Michael Harney, Dave Chappelle
fter his latest show, hard-drinking country rock star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) wanders into a drag bar where young singer Ally (Lady Gaga) performs an ardent rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Instantly smitten by both the girl’s talent and sincerity, Maine convinces Ally to come to his next gig – and even brings her on stage to perform a duet that she wrote. When Ally quickly becomes a sensation at Jackson’s venues, she attracts the attention of manipulative music producer Rez (Rafi Gavron), who wishes to mold her into a more traditional pop star. While Ally struggles to maintain her individuality, Maine continues to battle with alcoholism, straining both their whirlwind romance and their oppositely spiraling careers.
“You sound great, but you don’t look so great.” This devastating phrase always seems to disrupt Ally’s progress in the music industry. In a world populated by powerful men, her talent just isn’t enough to overcome sexism and shallowness (she points out that her nose is her least appealing feature). For Jackson, it’s the drugs and booze that are destined to derail his career. In both scenarios, the actors excel, creating improvisational, humorous, down-to-earth interactions that are sure to win over crowds. The introductions of these roles are outstanding and wholly convincing (one of the film’s most affecting scenes involves Jackson coaxing Ally to the mic for a spontaneous song). Cooper offers up one of his best turns (getting to shed some tears in poignant intervals, while also making his directorial debut), but it’s Lady Gaga who really steals the show. Even though she’s playing a part that seems autobiographical, her acting is natural and spot-on; never does she feel like she’s trying to inhabit someone else’s persona. If she’s just being herself, it works sensationally.
The plot leads to plenty of songs, whether it’s in the form of performances in a crowded bar or in a spotlight, or rehearsing for a show, or music playing in the background or over montages, or during a television appearance, or characters just humming a tune to be molded into a more elaborate piece. At several points, with full renditions unfolding in real-time, it feels as if watching a concert. But the love story, particularly in the beginning, is communicated through songs – and it’s entirely enchanting. Unfortunately, toward the middle of the picture, a lull occurs, in part due to a number of montages that carry little weight, as well as because of dramatic happenings that emphasize the self-destructive tendencies of a largely unsympathetic addict. Nevertheless, almost every time a sequence is designated for another ballad, it’s difficult to dismiss the strength and passion of the singers.
As the film comments on fame, jealousy, the behind-the-scenes politics of show business, the impulsiveness necessary to follow one’s dreams (which disappointingly takes the shape of a rich, successful man helping the uncertain, unknown woman gain attention), and the fear of becoming washed up or replaced by rising stars, the story treads some rather familiar ground. Familial strife, rises and falls (as Ally catapults to fame, Jackson’s own career plummets, crafting a nice contrast), and frustrating tragedies have a habit of breaking up the pauses in music, though the acting always manages to elevate the overbearing nature of the exaggerated drama (save for extraneous appearances of minute-consuming bit parts by famous faces who detract from the lighthearted fantasy of it all). Toward the end, the emotional elements overshadow the singing, unable to find a balance that can make sense of Jackson’s personal demons, Ally’s distance from his problems, and the resonant songwriting inspired by great loss. However, even when “A Star is Born” is at its most sentimental or manipulative, Gaga remains believable, and her crooning is utterly heartfelt.
– The Massie Twins