A STAR IS BORN

“Remake” is the kind of word that just puts a bad taste in your mouth, making you want to spit. What’s the point of telling the same story that’s already been told, right? Well, I agree, but humans have been telling pretty much the same dozen or so stories for the past thousands of years, all with just different coats of paint. What’s Star Wars, other than some space version of  The Hidden Fortress? It’s not a direct remake, but it’s the same elements just told in a different way. Now, a majority of remakes are pretty awful and don’t hold a candle to the original, but if the right talent is there, it can become its own thing. 

A Star is Born follows Jack Maine (Bradley Cooper), a famous country-rock musician who struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Feeling at a low point in his life, he sees singer Ally (Lada Gaga) perform at a bar and is immediately enamored with her talent. The two strike up a relationship, which leads to Jack bringing Ally on stage to perform with him. Ally’s talent is quickly noticed by the music industry and the public alike, catapulting her to stardom. However, this newfound fame and Jack’s personal issues puts a strain on their relationship and her new career. 

A Star is Born just might be the most remade film of all time, with this new installment being the fifth version. I haven’t seen any of the other versions, so I don’t know how different this one is, but I know they all deal with the exploration of rising stardom. That doesn’t seem to be the main story here, but how seemingly positive things like fame and glory can lead you down dark paths like addiction. Jack’s self-destructive tendencies is the main crux of the story, being the main rocky road in his and Ally’s relationship. They have wonderful chemistry and a genuine love for each other, but as it grows, you can see that it’s really not meant to be, and so can the characters. When you hear the title, you think it’s just about becoming accustomed to fame, which it is from Ally’s perspective, but with Jack, it’s the cost of fame. 

Jack’s struggle with drugs and the pressures of fame is heartbreaking to watch, especially with how well Cooper plays it. It’s amazing seeing how much he’s grown as an actor since the days of The Hangover. He now has a crooning, Southern drawl, a greying beard, and is constantly flushed and sweaty from his drinking. It’s a sad and realistic portrayal of addiction, especially in scenes where he breaks down crying after saying awful things he shouldn’t have said. His performance is even more impressive since he learned to sing and actually play guitar, which he shows off with some wicked solos. It’s incredible that he not only directed this, but went to these lengths to accurately portray a musician character. If acting is truly all about becoming another person, then he became another person with pretty much every inch of himself. As far as 2018 goes, I think it’s by far the best performance of the year. 

The rest of the film of course wouldn’t work without the titular star who is born, and Lady Gaga lives up to the word. Her music isn’t really my taste, so I haven’t heard a lot of it, but I won’t deny that she’s extraordinarily talented. She shows herself to be a very well-rounded entertainer here, nailing all of her acting and singing beats. She’s basically playing herself as Ally, but there’s a lot of excellent subtle acting, especially during the singing performances. When she’s singing, you can see little facial twitches or expressions in her eyes that really shows she’s bringing this performance out of a real place. It of course helps that Gaga is already a seasoned performer, but I was impressed with how good she was here. It’s not often that you get to see a somebody incorporate acting like this into their singing, but she made it feel really special and real. It’s just as much her’s film as it is Cooper’s. 

In the year of directorial debuts by actors, Cooper makes his first foray into directing here, which makes the journey that his character goes through even more emotional. He has a great visual eye, knowing how to use the right framing and camera movements to get the best emotional response. It’s an obviously musically heavy film, featuring a lot of bombastic concert scenes, with appropriately loud and impeccably mixed sound. The last half hour is a total gut punch, especially the last five minutes, which features one of the best uses of form editing I’ve ever seen. While Cooper definitely does tug at the heartstrings, it all feels completely earned in the end. However, some elements did feel a bit rushed, like Ally’s sudden rise to stardom and aspects of Jack’s addiction. I was enjoying the character’s story so much that I would have welcomed 20-30 more minutes to increase that emotional impact.

A lot of the elements in A Star is Born can come off as pretty rote, predictable, and cliché, but honestly, that’s kind of the film’s point. At the end of the film, Sam Elliot (in a terrific supporting role) says that all music is basically the same 12 notes, but it’s what you say between those 12 notes that’s important. It’s obvious the filmmakers were referencing themselves, this being the fifth version of the story and all, but as they show with this new version, they’re completely right. The same stories have been told again and again and again over thousands of times, but if you have something to say and say it well, you’ll always have people’s attention. 

9/10

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