You thought Bradley Cooper was hungover in The Hangover trilogy… think again, bub.
Seasoned country rock singer, Jackson Maine, discovers an up-and-coming singer/ songwriter, Ally, for whom he consequently falls deeply in love with as the years that follow their initial interaction lead them down a path of heartache, addiction and great loss.
So as I always do before a review, I would like to quickly give you guys a bit of context concerning where I’m at with the titular film in question before explaining my critiques and musings on it. Reflecting on the previous three cinematic iterations of A Star Is Born, guess how many of them I have seen? If you guessed 0, you’d have guessed correctly. That’s right, I have never seen any of three versions of A Star Is Born, but I do roughly know the history concerning them. The films originally centred around the protagonist becoming a star in the land of acting rather than singing and it was only Barbara Streisand’s 1976 version that brought the series of reboots to a music centric approach. Whereas the Barbara Streisand version (and yeah, I know I haven’t seen it) did receive poor reviews, it created a new and interesting concept – having the narrative surround the music industry as opposed to the film industry. You see, what I find is that a film can get a little too meta and pretentious when speaking on Hollywood as its thematic focus point, but when studying the music industry, the concept is almost so alien to film narrative that cinema’s depiction of it fits near perfectly and provides a way more fulfilling overview of show business on a whole. So on top of those ideas, including faith in Bradley Cooper and the promise of some incredible music, I have to say I was anticipating the 2018 take on A Star Is Born and… I didn’t love what I got.
Now I think Cooper’s A Star Is Born is definitely a solid film – one that critics and audiences can both unanimously agree on – and there is nothing inherently wrong with the production or the performances or the script, particularly. My quarrels with the film are just seemingly hard to pinpoint. Before my screening of the film, the audience of the previous session were leaving the cinema in tears as my friends and I all shared looks of fear of what would come. I thought maybe, just maybe, this film would bring me to tears… and leaving the cinema, I was more saddened by how dry my face was and the fact I felt almost the exact same way I did before watching the film. It’s almost as if A Star Is Born left no real lasting impact on me at all – it was just a film that I enjoyed whilst watching, but that’s kind of it.
Ok so I know film criticism is meant to be objective when writing a review, but its hard because I was hoping for a little more out of this film than most. And I know that’s wrong to place such expectations on a film when, as a critic, I am meant to be viewing every film through the same lens as the last. So I guess maybe I should really distil what it was about this film I was not a huge fan of so I can get in to why I did like this film – because to set the record straight I did like A Star Is Born and my views on it are way more positive than negative. Thing is, I just have an itch I gotta scratch.
What it was about A Star Is Born that just could not allow me to get as emotionally invested in the narrative as the filmmakers probably wanted me to get was how unremarkable this film felt overall. A sense that not a lot of the events in this movie felt overly organic but more just events that happened to take place one after the other. Now, I’m not dissing the script for which I thought to have a lot of great material; I just did not think A Star Is Born executed everything as well as possible and the narrative just felt rather standard to the point I could not label this film as incredible and universally deserving of the praise its been garnering.
So maybe the reason I didn’t love this film was because of just some little moments of editing – maybe its just the fact that this is Bradley Cooper’s first directorial rodeo – or maybe its just the fact that I was not completely sold on the central romance. A lot of the pivotal moments between Jackson and Ally just felt rather rushed over, like their first initial meeting to a certain dinner scene to other major moments throughout their lives. Even the brief interventions of the couple’s friends and family (especially one from a solid Dave Chappelle) just felt kind of randomly inserted because, why not? I just think the overall approach to the storytelling and the lack of a connection to the pivotal romance really undermined what this film could have been. And that’s not to say the romance does not work completely, because I know for a fact audiences worldwide have been greatly effected by it, simply from the tears I heard leak in my cinema experience all around me. So yeah, maybe it is just me, but A Star Is Born just did not have me sold on the emotional undercurrent at play.
So yeah, enough of the dull stuff, let’s get back on track for why I really liked this film.
On the technical side, Cooper did a pretty darn solid job at directing this film, especially for being a first timer. As I noted before there were some editing choices I thought to be a bit amateur, like inserting random scenes in random places and having cuts that just did not feel like they lined up cohesively… but that’s just me being nit-picky. On a whole the cinematography was excellent and felt exclusive and intimate in its range, especially during concert sequences. In fact, scenes amidst a concert in A Star Is Born were probably my favourite sequences. As a matter of fact, Cooper had apparently decided upon making this film after his own personal experience of being welcomed backstage at a concert, and from that information, you can tell how passionate Cooper was in capturing said experience. Simply from the cinematography, sound design and music (we’ll get to that later) the filmmakers managed to create concert experience after concert experience that just felt so closely focused and built around the emotions and mindsets of their characters in such beautiful ways. Above all else, it were the moments during the concert sequences in A Star Is Born that were what I craved most throughout the film.
As for the music, I loved every note and every lyric. To be specific, the film’s two headlining songs ‘Maybe It’s Time’ and ‘Shallow’ really worked their magic in ways of enthralling you in the film’s intended emotion when the story could not. This may be a short point of positivity but it may also be my most important point – A Star Is Born works way better through the melody and emotion of lyrics and music than it does through general cinematic technique.
I have heard that both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are in early Oscar contention for their performances in A Star Is Born… and that’s cool – I mean, it’s pretty good. Personally, I was not 100% devoted to the performances from the two actors in question. I could certainly feel a level of chemistry between the two as apparently, behind the scenes, Cooper taught Gaga how to act and Gaga taught Cooper how to sing, therefore creating, what I thought to be, a real connection between both actors and, consequently, characters. However, on their own, I don’t think the actors worked as well. Towards the beginning, and in later scenes where they performed solo, I just thought Cooper and Gaga were more on the ‘good’ side rather than ‘great’. I really liked both the performers in this film, don’t get me wrong, however I would not leap to immediately saying they are two of the best performances of this year.
However, someone who may just have the best supporting performance of this year would have to be Sam Elliott. The reason for emphasising the ‘supporting’ is that Elliott really does feature in this film sparingly, but when he does, man are we gifted with some incredible acting. One sequence towards the end where Elliott sits in a car by himself after a certain interaction, captured in one shot, marks what I honestly think is one of Elliott’s finest moments before a camera.
Scaling deeper depths of the screenplay for A Star Is Born there is a specific line that stands out as something special and hauntingly meta that really solidified the main reason I both really liked and felt rather disappointed about this film. Elliott, towards the end of the film, whilst speaking on Cooper’s character notes how Jackson Maine explained once that:
“… music is essentially twelve notes between an octave – twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it.”
What I like is how Cooper and the filmmakers clearly utilised this line to acknowledge the film to not just be a ‘remake’ but more a ‘reimagining’. A Star Is Born is a story that has been told in the 30s, the 50s and the 70s, having now pierced the 21st century for our modern audience. You see, every generation stars are born – pure, uncompromised, true stars – and that star, well, it could be anyone of us. The reason A Star Is Born has survived for so long is because its a story so in touch with the human condition that you would have to be inhuman not to feel something whilst watching it.
Two parallel narratives rage against one another – one of descent and one of ascent. As one star is born another dies, disperses and fades away. A Star Is Born is a film about the transience of fame and consequently the transience of life, begging the question what will you leave behind after you wade too far out into the deeper water. Fame is a disease, a byproduct of true talent, and the industry (life itself) has a way of draining you of that talent, so the only thing left is the unhealthiness of fame and the addictions it all brings. However, what if – WHAT IF – what you leave behind is not much a legacy but another talent; a purer, untouched gift from the heavens? What if the thing you leave behind – your unbridled legacy – is a new star; a new voice for the world to consume? Though, that leaves the question, how can you protect what is pure from the mechanisms of fame – the industry – the man – the machine? It would be foolish to think A Star Is Born is a film with nothing on its mind, because there is a lot to unpack when you really sit and analyse what is going on.
Yes, the point may be we have seen this story told over and over again, and that this is just Cooper’s interpretation of it, but I do feel we have seen better versions. This may (based off what people are saying) be the best version of a film labelled ‘A Star Is Born‘ but we also have films like say Once and Begin Again – two modernised-like versions of the same story that rely on the heartfelt and challenging themes of the original films but without the narrative and character constraints. Again, I really liked 2018’s A Star Is Born, it’s just that I think some filmmakers could see those twelve notes better than Cooper and his team.
So there you have it, my complete and current thoughts concerning A Star Is Born: not great but really good. I realise wholeheartedly that this is a film many people will resonate with. A Star Is Born is touching, heavy and fulfilling in many cases. I really liked Cooper’s direction and acting as I did Gaga and Elliott. The music was phenomenal as was all the technical elements lead by the cinematography. In hindsight, this film has it all, its just that for me, I was missing something… and I think I know what.
Before I officially rate this film I would like to propose an alternative way this movie could have ended. Now, if you haven’t seen A Star Is Born, skip the next two paragraphs because there will be spoilers. I’m not saying I am any sorts of Hollywood writer and I am sure the filmmakers would have assessed many avenues to find a suitable conclusion to this film, but I think there is a finale which would have been better and more suited than what we got. So spoilers from here:
At the end of A Star Is Born, Cooper’s Jackson Maine hangs himself after a long stint at rehab whilst also believing he has failed his love, Ally. Now I can see why this would be a devastating ending as death scenes usually are emotional when done right in a film. However this one was so heavily foreshadowed and, in some ways, rushed over that I just don’t think it was totally felt in the most well-rounded way. The plot point almost felt like it was only included because, 1) the original included it and 2) a death scene is usually the easiest way to have an emotional ending. I beg to differ.
A critical element throughout the film is that Jackson Maine is going deaf. The more the film goes on, the more threatening his inability to hear gets and you really begin to believe something bad will happen because of it. However, the film instead opts for the addiction-leading-to-suicide ending, which is understandable but could have been way more impactful. What I think would have really allowed this film to get that homerun and really knock itself out of the park would have been this: Jackson goes to rehab, recovers from his addictions but Ally leaves him and pursues her ‘sellout’ pop career as result of him embarrassing her at the Grammys. Jackson begins making amends with the people in his life as his deafness slowly creeps up on him. Jackson has become an unknown, and literally nobody recognises him, apart from the casual few – meanwhile Ally has one of the most recognisable faces on the globe. Jackson eventually approaches Ally and tries to make it up to her, but she, convinced by her manager, believes Jackson to be unhealthy for her career. Finally, at one of Ally’s concerts, Jackson pushes by security and arrives backstage (mirroring her being backstage for the first time at his concert). Before everything goes silent, she notices him, removes all her make-up and pop sh*t and sings “Shallow” one final time in acoustic. It’s the final thing Jackson hears before the audio goes dark, and soon after, so does the film.
I just think that would have been what made me tear up instead of just the cliché death scene. But hey, if you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter – its just the way I see those twelve notes.
So yeah, good movie in total. I think I have talked enough about this film, so maybe its time to let the old ways die. On a final note though, now that I can compare the two, I would 100% go to a Jackson Maine concert over a Lady Gaga concert in future.
A Star Is Born is a bloody… CRUSADE!!
- Concept Arts, 2018, A Star Is Born (2018), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 21 October 2018, http://www.impawards.com/2018/star_is_born.html (Featured Image)
- Blackwell, J, 2018, A Star Is Born – Venice 2018 Review, One Room With A View, One Room With A View, viewed 21 October 2018, https://oneroomwithaview.com/2018/08/31/a-star-is-born-venice-2018-review/