Film Review: A Star is Born
by Diana Matthews
co-host of BeaverTalk
A Star is Born is a movie that stays with you. Its strength comes from its layers - there’s so much to talk about in this love story of two musicians who struggle to navigate their dedication to one another through the pitfalls of addiction and the tumultuous journey of superstardom.
It’s a film that lives in the gray, offering a complicated portrayal of codependency and what it means to maintain artistic integrity and an authentic voice. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performances are nuanced and powerful and the accompanying soundtrack is a visionary showcase of raw talent all on its own.
Some moments in A Star is Born are absolutely captivating whereas others left me slightly confused.
When the credits started to roll, I immediately wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen. It made me feel something I was struggling to name yet knew I needed to explore and given the incredible success it’s having at the box office, I know I’m not alone in that feeling.
I saw A Star Is Born on opening night after closely following its progression from the moment Lady Gaga announced she had signed on to be a part of it. The first time I saw the trailer, I scoffed, dismissing it as a Crazy Heart-meets-Glitter rendition of the down-on-his-luck country singer who falls in love with a tragic female musician struggling to reconcile her integrity with the fickleness of the industry. But after a few more views, I was all-in and found myself tearing up as Lady Gaga’s voice swells and clips of the two together flash on screen, giving just enough to pull us in.
When the movie started, I was thrilled by the opening scenes of Jackson Maine (Cooper) rocking out on stage and was delighted as Ally, played by Lady Gaga, casually sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow to herself as she threw out the trash - a lovely homage to Judy Garland who played the role in the 1954 version of A Star is Born.
The first half of this movie is an absolute joy to watch and it washed over me like a wave.
Cooper’s directorial vision is crystal clear as Ally’s mercurial rise to popstar status is juxtaposed to the beginnings of Jackson’s demise through alcoholism. There’s a scene when Jackson pulls Ally on stage with him to sing a duet in front of a stadium full of screaming fans that’s the most thrilling and memorable sequence I’ve seen in a movie in recent memory.
Watching Jackson and Ally fall in love is mesmerizing. Whether he’s peeling off her fake eyebrow, icing her bruised hand with a bag of frozen peas, or singing a duet with her at the piano, Jackson’s sincerity and adoration of Ally is palpable. Cooper’s portrayal of Jackson is masterful as he embodies the struggle of finding comfort in the quiet moments offstage and in the stark rawness of reality.
Conversely, Lady Gaga is exceptional as an artist who has lost faith in not only the music industry, but in herself. When we meet Ally, she’s frustrated, discouraged and in short, over it - tired of auditioning in front of rooms full of men who tell her she sounds great but isn’t much to look at. Ally sees Jackson so fully, in a way that no one else does - not as a celebrity but in all the complexities that makes him human. In turn, he’s quick to identify her talent and use his audience to champion her work.
This film is at its best when they two of them are onstage together, their love of music second only to their love for each other.
But in the second half of the film, A Star is Born falls prey to melodramatic stereotypes. It leaves Ally, whose eyes we see much of the first half of the film through, and shifts to Jackson’s experience as he falls deeper into alcoholism, eventually going to rehab and alienating himself from his relationships.
The film gets lost in itself, lacking the clear vision it started with. Jackson’s fraught relationship with his brother, played by Sam Elliott, becomes the focus as he strives to make amends with those he’s hurt and when the storyline returns to him and Ally, the stakes don’t feel high enough to justify why the two of them should stay together. The film stops being about Ally’s struggle to maintain her authenticity as an artist and becomes more about Jackson’s downward spiral, leaving me wanting more from the seeds planted in the beginning.
Lady Gaga grounds the film through to the end, the last scene of which had almost everyone on their feet and standing in a pool of tears. A Star is Born is a profoundly strong film with a message it sometimes struggles to adhere to. But ultimately, Little Monsters and Mini Coopers (yes, that’s what Bradley Cooper fans are now being called) will love watching them on screen.
While I’m still struggling to name the feeling this movie left me with, A Star is Born is a crowd-pleaser and enthralling to watch for those who love effective storytelling portrayed by artists at their top of their game.