“Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave – 12 notes and the octave repeat. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it.”
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born, is the fourth telling of the classic story, dating all the way back to 1937, with subsequent remakes in 1954 and 1976. Each movie has the same skeleton story, about an aging alcoholic rock star who falls in love with a young, up-and-coming singer/song writer, but each version is different in it’s own way.
Cooper adapted this story perfectly to fit for the modern time. Making a film for the fourth time isn’t usually how a director would kick off their career, especially an actor-turned-director, but Cooper did it and he did it brilliantly. This isn’t a movie from a first time director, this is a movie from a true artist who understands the craft. This is one of the best movies of the year.
At the film’s core, A Star is Born is as pure of a love story as they come. Jack (Cooper) goes into a bar after a show and meets Ally (Lady Gaga) and the two have an immediate connection. They have a fantastical evening together where they discuss life, music, and immediately fall in love. The two then set out on tour together, where, after performing at one of Jack’s shows, Ally becomes a star and gets signed to a record label. As Ally’s fame rises, she begins to succumb to the fame and changes her look, sound, and song styling, much to Jack’s dismay. Meanwhile, Jack’s star is fading and he begins to dive deeper and deeper in to alcoholism and substance abuse, which pushes the relationship to the brink.
Cooper and Gaga give two of the year’s best performances. Cooper is at a career best here. He strips down Jack and gives us a man haunted by past demons who just does what he does, which is play music. Jack uses drinking as a way to forget his past trauma and a way to go through life. He is a man who, when on stage, is an absolute pro, but as soon as he puts the guitar down, the real world sets in and he must escape by going to the bottle. When Jack meets Ally, he meets someone who makes music that means something and he falls in love with that. But when Ally’s fame begins to blow up, Jack isn’t jealous of the fame, he’s mad because he’s lost the Ally that he fell in love with. Cooper digs deep in this performance, showing every emotion Jack is feeling inside and out. And seeing Cooper rip the guitar and sing with all his soul is awe-inspiring. This is a sure-fire Oscar contender.
Lady Gaga is a revelation. A supporting actress before on T.V. and in some movies, she gives a performance that of a veteran. This is a raw, stripped down performance with a range of emotions coupled with incredible singing. She becomes Ally, a hopeless dreamer living with her degenerate father who finds her dream with Jack. Ally must save face when Jack gets too drunk in public places and when Jack messes up, she doesn’t put up with it. She doesn’t care who Jack is or how famous he is, she fell in love with him as a person and won’t allow him to ruin himself. As the fame takes over Ally, she begins to lose herself and begins to lose Jack as well. Gaga shows Ally’s vulnerability and her amazement as she rises to fame, but makes the turn when she’s full in it. But she never loses sight that Ally loves Jack and always shows that, whether with a look or a conversation. With this performance, a movie-star is truly born in Gaga.
Cooper also assembles a great supporting cast. The legendary Sam Elliot gives one of the best performances of his incredible careers as Jack’s brother and road manager, Bobby. Bobby cares about Jack as much as a brother can, but he won’t put up with Jack’s alcoholism and nonsense. He’s tough on Jack, but only out of love. Andrew Dice Clay is very impressive as Ally’s caring, yet dimwitted father. And Dave Chapelle nearly steals the movie as one of Jack’s old friends.
Cooper shoots this movie close to the characters, putting us in their minds and allowing us to see every emotion the characters are feeling, even if they are saying something else. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Jack and Ally are laying in bed and Ally is discussing going on tour and even though Jack is supporting her, you can read every emotion in his eyes and you know exactly what he is feeling. Cooper and Gaga use their eyes to tell their character’s stories and Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique make sure we see it.
We are also given a front row seat to some amazing musical performances. From the hard rocking “Black Eyes” to the final “I’ll Never Love Again”, I fell in love with every song and performance. The performance of “The Shallows” is an overwhelmingly emotional scene that will have your body shaking and wanting to power-ballad at the screen. It’s a show-stopping number for the best song in the movie.
A filmmaker is born in A Star is Born. Cooper, already an established actor and one of the best working today, showed he is just as skilled behind the camera and he is in front by taking an already established story and making it his own. He fleshes out great characters and gets top-notch performances from Lady Gaga, himself, and the supporting cast, while also making a film full of emotion that is sure to force some tears. This is a truly special film and one of the best of 2018.
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