A Star is Born: The Title Says it All
SPOILER ALERT: I will hint at things that happen throughout the course of the movie. So, if you haven’t seen any of the other renditions of this film or plan on watching this one soon, I would advise reading my usual “Too Long, Didn’t Read” score and synopsis along with the “Oscar Watch” section since those stay away from spoilers.
TL;DR Score and Synopsis:
84/100 – An all-around powerful movie with some minor character development flaws
To the actual review
From Janet Gaynor, to Judy Garland, to Barbara Streisand, to Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born” now possesses not one, not two, not three, but FOUR renditions, each with its own twists. While it would be easy to jump on the “Hollywood is running out of ideas” bandwagon like one of those annoying losers you see sitting around vaping in some underground coffee shop, you would be making a big mistake in doing so. Bradley Cooper, in his directorial debut, shot for the stars and added a wide variety of fresh takes on the story of two artists facing conflicting career trajectories.
From the start, “A Star is Born” showcased a stylistically unique vibe that distinguished itself from other musically oriented movies. Cooper and the production squad clearly did their homework on how to make concerts seem as genuine as possible. Most films with concerts in them seem over the top and phony, but clever cinematography captured the surroundings, and via the insistence to film at REAL concerts as opposed to creating their own, “A Star is Born” differentiated from its predecessors in a mesmerizing way.
On top of the authentic show-time vibes, the soundtrack was heart-breakingly beautiful and inspiring. I mentioned in a previous review of “Black Panther” that while I loved their songs, they failed to utilize them to their full potential. This was not the case with “A Star Is Born.” There were many memorable tunes throughout the course of the movie that I found myself listening to on repeat days after watching the movie. More specifically, the song “Shallow” stole the show, leaving a lasting impact well after the movie.
The beauty of these songs was rooted in their role to symbolize the unspoken thoughts of the characters. Every lyric was crafted intelligently, with hidden meanings behind them that explained and advanced certain plot points. Not to mention the fact that Lady Gaga electrified every song with her hauntingly beautiful voice. Bradley Cooper surprised me as well; he could belt it when he needed to. He’s certainly multi-talented, and this movie is a reflection of that.
Music played an important role in “A Star Is Born,” but it did not carry the whole film thankfully. The film examined what separated the “good” from the “great” artists. More specifically, it encouraged people to prioritize substance over style, and to not be afraid to bring something new to the table. Only so much can get accomplished with talent alone--you need something to say as well. Some of it does not carry throughout the whole movie to the extent I would have liked, but I will get to that later.
I especially enjoyed some of the supporting characters and their plotlines on why they thought they did not make the big time. Those characters served as pleasant comic relief. They reminded me of a quote from tennis player Andy Roddick: At one point in your life, you either have the things you want in life, or the reasons why you don’t. This wrung especially true for the characters who never saw their name in lights.
Speaking of name in lights, “A Star Is Born” also gave you a glimpse into the ruthless nature of show business. While they stressed an importance to unleash your inner unique voice, you also need to be prepared to compete with conflicting visions. Ally (Lady Gaga) experienced this first hand, and it bolstered the fact that staying true to your message can get incredibly difficult at times. "Star” also meaningfully delved into the difficulties with addictions and how the industry perpetuated that problem, doing so in a more realistic way than many other films.
Character wise, prominent artist Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) development arc did a marvelous job at highlighting the downward spiral drug and alcohol addicts undergo, and why they struggle to overcome it. Jackson possessed a ton of depth. From his troubled background, to his various talents, to his awful physical pain, to his tragic addiction issues, you got a solid sense of who he was as a person and what drove his decisions. Bradley Cooper also convincingly brought him to life: you could strongly sense all of his hardships through the way Cooper carried himself over the course of the film. His chemistry on-screen with rising star and wife Ally (Lady Gaga) showed flashes of brilliance, but it did feel a tad forced at times, especially as the film progressed and his addiction issues worsened.
Jackson’s brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), impacted the film in an underrated way. You sensed the major issues in their up-brining, and Sam Elliott as an actor showed an incredible range of emotions that gave the character some much needed depth and breadth. His appearances are limited, but they definitely make an important impact throughout the course of the film.
Despite a multitude of positive elements in “A Star Is Born,” it also contained some faults, much like any other film not titled “Ratatouille” (I don’t mean to keep bringing this movie up in my articles (not gonna lie, I actually do, I’m only being partially sarcastic here), but seriously, watch this scene, heck watch the whole movie, or at least the last like 20 minutes and say that it is NOT cinematic perfection. It’s impossible to do so). The biggest room for improvement came in the character development department, particularly with Ally (Lady Gaga) and some of the more minor supporting characters.
I need to preface before this criticism that Lady Gaga showcased her amazing talent in a big way in this movie. However, her acting skills left a little to be desired. She seemed a little wooden at times and they definitely tried to limit her to scenes that involved music. For the most part, she did enough to seem sympathetic, likable and believable, but I do wonder how she would fare in a movie where she would not be performing for the majority of it.
My biggest complaint with the character Ally did not stem from Lady Gaga’s acting performance. Ultimately, we never get to explore as much depth of her character necessary to make her completely well rounded. The beginning development was strong, as they established her insecurity. But, as the film went on, Ally seemed more and more “cookie-cutter.” She lacked vulnerability or even individuality for that matter. Too much of her character identity relied upon the decisions of other people as opposed to herself. Some more exploration into her personal life would have gone a long way in solidifying the whole movie, along with her personality.
Ally’s agent, Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron) drove the brunt of her decisions besides her husband. Some clash did exist, but he carried himself in a pompous, arrogant way that did not come across as remotely sympathetic. He seemed fairly believable as the “ruthless show business” type, but he also did not show any dynamic development.
Some of the minor characters, while likable, kind of came out of nowhere. For instance, part way through the movie, Jack hit a major low, only to later encounter a friend we never received any real context to named George (Dave Chappelle). His friend was a sympathetic person, but their dynamic came completely out of left field. More context behind their relationship (or at least some kind of casual reference to him beforehand) would have been much appreciated.
While most of these complaints are nitpicky, one aspect of the film legitimately prevented this movie from leaving more of a lasting legacy on me. As mentioned a little earlier, Ally’s decisions were driven in large by Jackson and her agent. Her husband, Jackson, stressed the importance of individuality, but as the film progressed, Ally veered further and further away from her inner self and still became famous. It detracted from the power behind one of their most important messages given Ally’s ability to become famous despite succumbing to the demands of show business agents. A more overt transition to her authentic self could have alleviated some of the muddling of their message. They gave a “wink wink, nudge nudge” reference in the end, but it did not give as big of a nod to their core essence as needed.
Overall, “A Star Is Born” left a bit to be desired from a character development standpoint, but it crafted a uniquely powerful narrative with top-notch acting, aesthetics, and music.
It will take a major scandal down the road for “A Star is Born” to not get nominated for “Best Picture.” Percentage wise, you are looking at around a 95 percent chance. It is a very solid film that will definitely be in the mix to win it all come show time. I also anticipate it to be in the running for not only some of the big hardware, but some of the smaller ones as well. I will sort it into three categories: Serious contender, likely nomination with a possible chance at winning, and possible nominations with little to no chance at winning.
Best Original Song: “Shallow” – This song is incredibly powerful. While I loved the Black Panther soundtrack, it paled in comparison to the songs in this movie.
Best Actor: Bradley Cooper – He displayed great depth in his acting. He delivered some memorable lines, musical talent, but most importantly, he could portray so many different emotions through verbal and non-verbal means. He will certainly be in the mix to win it going forward.
Best Actress: Lady Gaga – Her performance was not perfect by any means. She seemed to force emotions at times. However, her musical gift to the film alone should keep her in contention with prospective competitors. She does have flashes of acting magic as well when she performs.
Best Director: Bradley Cooper – He crafted an in-depth, developed movie with great aesthetics. For a directorial debut, he did a great job at bringing everything together. He may not win, but this nomination will not be a sheer courtesy. He earned it.
Likely Nomination with a possible chance at winning:
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Elliot – He made a great impact throughout the course of the movie. He will be in tough contention with some heavy hitters, so there’s no guarantee he will win.
Best Editing: The way they cut everything made all of the elements of the film seem super realistic. The realism brought to this film should land it a spot in the top five for editing. It will need to compete with “First Man.”
Best Adapted Screenplay: The writing of the lyrics alone should secure it a nomination. Given the weak field this year in Adapted Screenplay and given the way the writing developed the plot and characters, it should land a deserving nomination in this category.
Possible nominations with little to no chance at winning:
Best Cinematography: They did a wonderful job at filming the musical performances, which should land it a nomination. Unless other films’ cinematography falters, its best-case scenario is a distant courtesy nomination.
Best Sound Mixing: They seamlessly incorporated all of the music into the movie without a hitch. Even though that is nothing groundbreaking, it is something that should be commended with a nomination.
Best Production Design: Every setting seemed refreshingly realistic but none of the locations were particularly memorable. It could very well get nominated off of authenticity alone, but it did nothing to top all other films.