A Star is Born is the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and stars both him and Lady Gaga. It is the fourth iteration of this story, first made in 1937, then again in 1954, and most recently in 1976. Vanity Fair referred to the film as the “undisputed crowd-pleaser” at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, and it is an early awards favorite. The first single from the film, “Shallow”, debuted at #14 on Billboard’s Digital Music Chart after just a half a day of sales. Safe to say, there is a lot of hype going into this one. But is it deserved?
Awards Season Starts Early
The film stars Bradley Cooper as Jackson, a veteran musician who struggles with alcoholism and tinnitus. Jackson discovers Ally (Gaga) while she is performing at a drag bar and decides to help give her the music career she’s always dreamed of while also falling more and more in love with her every step of the way. This story manages to grip you from the start as the two lead characters win you over with some amazing musical performances. From there, the film continues to draw you in deeper as you grow invested in the relationship between the two leads. At two hours and fifteen minutes long, this movie really takes its time to develop these characters and runs the gambit of emotions. That being said, it does drag in parts and could probably have been fifteen to twenty minutes shorter in length.
While I can’t compare how this story stacks up against the previous iterations (because I haven’t seen them), I can say that it hit many of the same beats as a similarly themed film in Crazy Heart, the film that won Jeff Bridges his Best Actor Oscar in 2009. The difference is that A Star is Born isn’t as brooding as Crazy Heart and features much more range in its musical styles. Speaking of the music, this year’s Best Original Song will probably come from this film. My money is on the aforementioned single, “Shallow,” taking home the Oscar. This is no surprise given the talented songwriters that worked on this film, including Lady Gaga, Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson), and Jason Isbell. Bradley Cooper even joined in on the fun and wrote some songs for the film. This soundtrack will surely be one to check out when it’s released.
Let’s not waste any time here, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s chemistry in this film is palpable and their performances are impeccable. The Lady Gaga we see here is a far cry from the one we saw in fifth season of American Horror Story. She shows off just how much range she actually has and seems to be vastly improved as an actress. It certainly helps that she has the opportunity to play a character that she can probably relate to and she takes that opportunity and runs with it. Lady Gaga absolutely steals the show in this film.
Bradley Cooper, who also directed this film, was fantastic as always. It should no longer come as a surprise to anyone that this guy can act, especially after garnering three straight acting nominations from 2013 to 2015. Whenever he has an opportunity like this to shine, he will always be a threat to be nominated again. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Cooper and Gaga ended up receiving Best Actor/Actress nominations for their performances in this film. What did come as a surprise was how well he could sing. Bradley Cooper may have a second career as a musician waiting in the wings. Maybe he and Jeff Bridges could collaborate on something.
When watching this film, it became increasingly harder to believe that it was made by a first-time director. Bradley Cooper absolutely nails his debut outing. The first thing that really struck me about the style that he brought to this movie was his frequent use of close-ups. Normally, I’m not a fan of that style of camerawork because I like being able to see more in the frame and I’m a sucker for busy shots. However, the frequent close-ups added a more personal feel to this film that was absolutely crucial for this film to work. If the audience doesn’t connect with Jackson and Ally, the entire film falls apart. Thanks to script, the chemistry of the performers, and Cooper’s willingness to get up close and personal with camera, the audience feels the full force of that connection.
A second aspect of Cooper’s filmmaking that deserves to be commended is his handling of the concert scenes. When Ally is not on stage, the audience sees things through her eyes, with the shots making it seem like you are watching a performance from backstage. Whenever Ally is on stage, the feeling of the scene changes. Those scenes were shot in a way that made me feel like I was watching a live concert film. Many of the techniques you see in those films, from the wide shots of the audience, to the shots of the singer from behind overlooking the crowd, to the angles used to film the actual performance, mimic the style of live concert films.
For reference, watch Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz which is itself a live concert film from 1978. You will notice many similarities between the way that concert was filmed and the way Cooper shot his concert scenes in A Star is Born. He also made the decision to perform the music live rather than lip-syncing and then dubbing the vocals over. By making that stylistic choice, Cooper gave the performances a more realistic and authentic feel, and the raw vocals allowed the audience to feel the emotion emanating from their voices and further connect with the characters.
A Star is Born has received heaps of praise prior to its wide release, and it’s easy to see why. This film has charm, drama, breathtaking performances, and multiple memorable songs. It is sure to be a “crowd pleaser” and will probably crush at the box office. Not to mention, this film is already a critical darling. It seems destined to be a topic of discussion come awards season and will almost certainly receive a Best Original Song nomination and likely a win. It’s fitting that the title of this film is A Star is Born because this could mark the start of a serious acting career for Lady Gaga and open up some doors for Bradley Cooper in the director’s chair. A Star is Born is one of the best films of the year and one you should see as soon as possible.
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