I’ve needed quite a bit of time to process what I think about this film. On one hand I wanted to avoid looking like a massive hypocrite, after everything I’ve said about remakes/reboots over the years, so this review may seem incongruous.
Secondly, I’ve done my best to avoid other critiques of this film more than I usually do. My usual rule is to expose myself to next to no hype or criticism before I see this film, even if it’s a reviewer I liked, this allows me to retain my own opinions without input from elsewhere, often though, some of my points are shared by other reviewers, but I like to think it lends a certain honesty to my work.
As I write this, it’s about three weeks since I saw the film, and I’ve gone over it in my head ever since, if you’re good at reading tones you’ve probably deduced what I think/thought, but let’s go into it a bit more.
A popular country music artist, struggling with alcoholism, discovers and begins a relationship with a younger singer, exposing her to the music world through his concerts, as her career takes off, his personal life descends further into addiction, putting a strain on his personal and professional life.
Going into this film, I was a very conflicted man. On one hand, I wanted to really enjoy the film, I never really want to watch a terrible film, even though they make for better reviews, but on the other hand, I had trepidation about its status as a remake, the third remake no less, and that a popular acting talent was moving behind the camera. Coming out, my mind was made up, Bradley Cooper had made the transition spectacularly.
There are a few different ways in which acting talent move behind the camera, there are some who do it for ego-driven reasons (see William Shatner and the disaster that is Star Trek V) and some who do it out of passion (Clint Eastwood and to a lesser extent, Ron Howard) and it is immediately clear in Cooper’s first attempt that he is firmly in the latter category. the film’s direction and technical ability of story-telling is simply staggering.
There are very few movies that manage to touch me emotionally, being a critic will do that to you, but by this film’s climax, I was close to being a blubbering wreck. This was half because of the incredible acting on show (more on that later) and the other half was how the story was told, the accomplished direction and the extremely effective cinematography.
It really is astounding how right Bradley Cooper has got it on his very first attempt, but here we are. You would be tempted to quit while you were ahead, but if this start is anything to go by, his presence behind any camera would be welcome. Also, the more I think about this film, the more I realise how brave it was of Cooper to make his directorial debut with a remake of an already well-known property, yet still make it his own.
Admittedly, I have never seen any other version of the film, so I don’t have a reference, but I’d be very surprised if the three that came before it came anywhere close to this film, it creates lives for its characters, you get so entranced in their struggles that you forget you’re sat watching a cinema screen. The characters are familiar but don’t feel overdone, hitting that sweet spot of relate-ability we crave in characters.
One of the films biggest positive is its acting, all the naysayers about the casting of Lady Gaga have been roundly and thoroughly silenced. She is magnificent, her performance showing a level of experience that befits an actress with many more years of experience, it would be easy to dismiss her casting as stunt casting of the highest order, but I can confidently say she was the best person for that character at this time, bringing with her not only the ability to shock us with a nuanced and layered acting performance, but her invaluable musical experience. I would consider her an early favourite for an Oscar, and would not be disappointed in the least if she won.
Then there’s Bradley Cooper himself, pulling double duty as not only behind the camera, but the star in front of it too, while Cooper has struggled with over-exposure in films over the years, he shows here his true ability to front a film, an earlier comparison with Clint Eastwood seems apt, as not since Eastwood has someone made starring in, and directing a film look so easy. Of course some of the camera work can be attributed to his Director of Photography and Cinematographer, but his vision cannot be understated, it feels like there’s a firm pair of hands steering the narrative at all times.
Then there’s the music, as this is a musical as well as a drama, but do not expect you’re usual Broadway-style tale of joy, it is a heavy, gritty story, portrayed beautifully in its soundtrack, some of it written by Gaga and Cooper, with outside help mostly from Lukas Nelson, son of famous country outlaw, Willie Nelson. There are many memorable tunes throughout the film, but the most memorable is the films climax song, I’ll Never Love Again, which, I’m willing to bet will walk away with an Oscar next February.
I do have minor quibbles, as no film is perfect after all. Bradley Cooper’s accent, while fitting for his character, is sometimes indecipherable, even when it isn’t supposed to be, and oddly enough, I don’t feel enough is established of Ally (Gaga’s character) and her father’s (played by Andrew Dice Clay) relationship, as there seems to be an interesting dynamic there, which is never really built upon.
Still, if a film’s biggest worries are an accent and underdeveloped side-plot, it must be doing okay, and A Star is Born isn’t just okay, it is fantastic. Both an interesting experiment in character development, and a moving drama all in one, anchored by spell-binding lead performances and accomplished direction, this is one of this years best cinematic offerings, and I expect a large swoop of awards seasons come next year.