Review: A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born (2018)
Lady Gaga: Ally
Bradley Cooper: Jack
Sam Elliott: Bobby
Andrew Dice Clay: Lorenzo
Rafi Gavron: Rez Gavron
Anthony Ramos: Ramon
Dave Chappelle: George "Noodles" Stone
Screenplay by: Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters (based on a 1954 screenplay by Moss Hart, a 1976 screenplay by John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Frank Pearson, and a story by William Wellman and Robert A. Carlson)
Directed by Bradley Cooper
A Star Is Born is the kind of movie they used to make. Big stars giving great performances in a love story focused on story and character. This is a movie that loves the faces of its stars, with close-ups galore. But, we need those shots because we're going through this journey with them. Seeing the joy and exuberance, the fear and pain puts us in the fray with Jack, an alcoholic alt-country star, and Ally, the unknown singer for whom he falls and who becomes a star in her own right.
They meet in drag club where Jack watches Ally perform a rousing vesion of "La Vie en Rose" and when he lays on her, it's love. At first, with her talent, but as they spend the night talking and sharing their thoughts on music (she writes a song about him on the spot), it is clear he is mad about her very essence. Ally is equally attracted and she follows him to a gig where he drags her onstage to perform one of her songs. What happens after that is a tale that's been told many times, but it feels fresh and vital here. By the time we reach the film's emotional climax, we are completely invested.
Much of the credit for this goes to Bradley Cooper's direction. He gets remarkable work out of his actors. He also gives the best performance of his career as Jack. It's understated and nuanced without ever becoming tic-ish. Sam Elliott's performance as Jack's brother Bobby is pitch perfect, also. They have a wonderful scene in the final act that is exhilarating to watch. It's quiet and intimate and beautiful. But, the real revelation here is Lady Gaga. Her turn as Ally is the kind of performance that sticks with you. She's charismatic, even in the softer moments, and commands the screen whenever she's on. She and Cooper have a natural, easy chemistry. We root for them. We cry with them. It's really something special.
You can't dismiss Matthew Libatique's cinematography, though. His camera catches every facial expression perfectly. One moment that really got me was in the aforementioned scene between Jack and Bobby. Their conversation has ended and Bobby is backing up his truck. Cooper lets Libatique's camera stay on Sam Elliott's eyes just long enough. It's lovely.
A couple of beats didn't quite work for me. I thought the movie sided too much with Jack in his dismissive attitude toward Ally's pop stylings and the character of Ally's manager shaded a little too much into caricature, especially relative to the richness of the others. These are minor quibbles, though.
A Star Is Born is the kind of movie I've been missing from Hollywood: a star-driven, exquisitely made romance about characters that are treated as humans. There will be cynics who will scoff, but this is good old-fashioned movie making. I love all kinds of movies. I'm all in for superheroes and spaceships and monsters and whatever else a picture wants to throw at me. Most of all, though, I just want to spend a couple of hours with characters I can invest in.
Jack and Ally are going to stick with me for a long time.