A Star Is Born is the 3rd remake of a movie released with the same title in 1937. The original had Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as headliners. The remake in 54 had Judy Garland and James Mason, and the one in 76 had Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Apparently, all 3 previous incarnations of this movie had been winners, or the very least, contenders for the Oscars. This latest version stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and what do you know, it too seems to be a contender for the Oscar race. In fact, it seems to be one of its front runners. This is quite remarkable since Bradley Cooper pulled double duty on this one, both as lead actor and director, the latter being his debut. The story itself is rather straightforward. An established but fading star (actor in the first 2 films, singer in the latter ones) finds a promising new talent which leads also to love. This love reinvigorates the fading star, but as the proteges star is on the rise, he falls back into the shadows and things start to go rather dark from there.
To be honest, I have not seen any of the previous incarnation of this story. I knew they exist, I even skimmed trough a lengthy account about the making of the 3rd film that the director has released much to Barbra Streisand’s displeasure. But not once was I considering watching any of the other 3 movies, let alone all of them, so that I have a basis for comparison for the current version. I have too many titles that I actually want to see in my free time to do this kind of optional homework, and besides, this kind of story just doesn’t do it for me. There are far too many tropes here that I have seen elsewhere, executed with various degree of success. In fact, I was pretty sure how the story will roll out, just based on the premise alone. So why did I go to see this movie in the first place? Because it is one of the happening movies right now, so I kind of felt like I have to see it. Plus, I was curious if the Oscar buzz that it is getting is for real or not. Well, the buzz it is real. And I would gladly buy this movie for my collection and watch it again. It is that GOOD.
Don’t get me wrong. My expectations regarding the general direction of the plot was met by the movie. But the key word here is “general”. When we get to the specifics, this script gets rather original with things, or at least compared with the other tropes used by rise to/fall from stardom movies. And even though I knew the “beat” of the film and saw the turnings in the story coming, it never felt boring. Authentic, heart breaking, yes. Boring? Never.
But the story here is nothing but an excuse for the actors to unleash their powers and to glue your eyes on the screen. Bradley Cooper is phenomenal as Jack, the jaded rock star. Whenever I hear Coopers name, I cannot help myself of thinking back to the tv series Alias, where he made his breakout performance, or to most of his roles so far, where he is a pretty face with a cocky attitude. But that dude is miles away from this movie. Cooper is looks legit worn out here, tired and disappointed from all that stardom has to offer. I mean he looks old. He feels old. And it is not just the make-up or the acting… There was something in his eyes, a form of quiet sadness, that sold me everything. His nomination for best leading actor at the Oscars is pretty much a given, and if the awards were given out tomorrow, he would get it too. But since most of his real competition will only roll out in December, we will have to wait to see. Sam Elliot is also in the movie, although with way less screen time as Cooper. Non the less, he works wonders with the little that he is given, even if half the time I could not understand a word that he was mumbling under that big mustache of his. But there is a scene in the 3rd act with him, where there are no words spoken, and that scene alone should get him a best supporting actor nomination. I don’t think that a win is a realistic goal for Elliot, but I would be rather upset no to see him on the nominee list. However, let us not kid ourselves. The true breakout performance here is given by Lady Gaga. Which is, again, super weird. Just as same with Cooper, whenever I think of Gaga, I have a specific image in mind. There was a meme a long time ago with Gaga and Eminem on stage at an award show that had a text similar to “you know you are fucked up when you are on stage with Eminem and he is the normal one”. All the while Gaga was in a full body red suit with some weird full face mask on, that made her look like something out of Guillermo del Toro film. And generally that what Gaga was for a really long time, a provocateur, in lack of a better word. But not here. Here she is down to earth, she is vulnerable, she is loving. And she is goddamn gorgeous without spending half the day behind the make-up mirror. Despite whatever image she was selling 10 years ago, she is a totally different person here and I had no problems in buying it. The fact how she managed to keep her love for Coopers character, despite the hard times he put her trough, and how she constantly needs to compromise in her singing carrier but managing to stay true to herself, all of these make her just as much a tragic character as Cooper, and she pulls it off effortlessly. Now, many have made the argument that the reason she is so good here is that she basically has to play herself, but I do not agree. She already built a successful acting career in the world of television, so her talent was not something “borrowed”. Also, the director and script writer knew exactly how to get the most out of Gaga acting in front of the camera. As for her singing… well, there is a reason why she was an international hit as a singer before turning to acting. Just like Cooper, Gaga is also a sure thing for getting an Oscar nomination for lead actress, and I am confident that she will taking it for home too. But as talented as Cooper and Gaga are individually, together they are a veritable powerhouse. They have great chemistry in front of the cameras, their interaction with each other is seamless, natural. You get why they care for each other, why they are disappointed by each other, why they are still together. When they share a scene, they do so as equals, there is no preferential focus on one specific person based on who is the biggest star, who has the better selling name.
There is one more player in this movie that needs to be mentioned, which is the music. And the music is great! All the songs written for the movie have the potential to stand their grounds on their own in today’s music charts. Gaga brings her A game in terms of singing, which is to be expected, but Cooper also performs his own singing and playing, and his performance is on par. In fact, all the singing in the movie is recorded live, in front of the camera, not in the studio as one might expect. Also, the concerts scenes are extraordinary. They were shot at Coachella and Glastonbury, during actual concerts with the actual concert going audience, and it feels. The crowd’s feedback, the lights, all the sounds, everything is authentic.
There are only 2 issues with this movie. The first would be its length, which being 2 hours and a quarter is a bit too long. This is the most telling sign that Cooper has never directed a movie before and is unable to let certain scenes go or trim down to improve the overall flow of the film. Fortunately, the film is good enough for this not to become a major issue. The second issue is that this movie is a sad one, as you might expect it from a tragedy. Now, the reason why this is an issue is that you will not watch this movie for a second or third time as easily as might do with other movies. This is by no way a complaint about the quality of the movie, on the contrary, but once the initial incentives for the watch are gone (the hype, the curiosity, the recommendations) and you are fully aware what this story is about and what it can deliver, you need to be in a specific mindset to watch it again. I have not reached that mindset since, which is a shame, since I am convinced that a second viewing would be tremendously rewarding.