There’s a great deal to like in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, the directorial debut from the actor. Cooper pulls off an Orson Welles, where in addition to acting in the film, he serves as one of its writers and producers. Good for him for having the clout to pull this off; however, the movie itself might have been better had he not had his thumb in all of the production’s pies. Yes, there are many effective moments throughout, but ultimately the film comes off as bloated exercise, one driven by ego rather than the pursuit of art for art’s sake.
This is the fourth go-around for this tale, the first gracing the screen in 1937 with remakes appearing in 1954 and 1976. This latest take was supposed to be helmed by Clint Eastwood with Jay-Z and Beyonce in the starring roles. However, scheduling problems and other delays scuttled that project, leaving it open for Cooper to step in and stretch his wings. Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters are credited in the screenplay, and the movie contains little in the way of surprises. It seems as though their main contribution is the plethora of F-bombs that are dropped in a needless and indiscriminate manner.
The basic story remains the same – country/rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a bit past the peak of his popularity but can still pack a stadium. However, he’s going deaf and his steady diet of booze and pills isn’t helping matters any. A stop at a random bar after a gig one night puts Maine in contact with a force of nature – Ally (Lady Gaga), a ferocious singer who doesn’t have the confidence to pursue her dream of being a professional entertainer. He takes her under his wing, encourages her to perform and provides her a platform on which to do so. They fall in love, get married, and, as her star ascends, his falls rapidly. Bitterness, jealousy and chaos ensue.
As Maine’s brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) says, “It’s the same story, over and over,” and if this basic plot has worked three times before, why mess with it? The problem doesn’t lie in the story but in Cooper’s approach. While the film is set in the music world and the audience has to see the stars in action, there are far too many songs performed which slows down the pace. Cooper’s tendency to allow scenes to run too long also prevents the movie from building up a full head of steam, never propelling the viewer breathlessly to its climax as it should.
While the movie has its faults, there are grace notes throughout that make it worthwhile as do the performances. One addition to the script is the relationship between siblings Jackson and Bobby, one that harbors long-held resentment and far too many things that have been left unsaid. The moments Cooper and Elliott share, particularly one at the end, cuts to the humanism in this tale, a quality obscured by the plentiful musical interludes. Other scenes with Cooper and Gaga are equally good, grounding the story in a way that drives home the emotional stakes in a quiet, poignant way that ultimately gives the movie the emotional weight it needs.
The film will likely garner a bevy of Oscar nominations, with acting nods for the two leads and Elliott a sure thing. And rightfully so – Cooper transforms himself once more in the subtle way he has while Gaga matches him step for step. A screen star is born here, and her fine efforts as well as those of her co-stars help right this listing ship that’s almost sunk due to Cooper’s directorial excesses.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.