A Star Is Born
It’s natural to not hope for much from the fourth iteration of A Star Is Born, but whether director Bradley Cooper is intentionally subverting those (lack of) expectations or merely seeking an easy, well-worn vehicle for his feature debut and hitting its basic marks may differ from viewer to viewer.
Bolstered by appealing music, the new twist charts the resurgence of alcoholic Southern rocker Jackson Maine (Cooper) after he meets aspiring singer Ally (Lady Gaga), gives her a shot at success and the two fall in love.
The original contributions come courtesy of various voices, including Jason Isbell (“Maybe It’s Time,” arguably the film’s best song), while Gaga and Lukas “Son of Willie” Nelson co-wrote many of the other tunes. The songs’ professionalism is a dependable perk, as is Cooper’s surprisingly strong visual acumen and sense for pacing.
That combination peaks early with Ally’s breakout rendition of “The Shallow,” a goosebumps-inducing moment — to the point that one can forgive her and Jack’s practically perfect performance without having rehearsed it with instrumentation nor gone over melodies or song structure, beyond the “they’re just that talented” explanation.
Outside of the music and imagery, Gaga feels right at home in the music industry narrative while conveying a sustained version of the humane dramatic vulnerability that define some of her best songs.
Also strong, Cooper appears early on to be doing little more than a Sam Elliott impersonation, then Elliott himself shows up as Jack’s manager Bobby and the vocal inflection gradually makes sense. Mr. Mustache also makes the rest of the cast look like actors in a middle school church play, but what else is new?
Supporting characters spice up the proceedings and the casting of comedians Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Griffin make for an interesting pattern — as does Cooper generously throwing work to his Alias costars Ron Rifkin and Greg Grunberg — but the script by Cooper, Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and Will Fetters (The Best of Me) fails to develop them beyond single-trait figures.
The storytelling of A Star Is Born is fairly rote as well. As Ally’s fame skyrockets and Jack’s barely keeps pace, the lone creative shading to the rampant clichés is the tragic element of musical trust in their relationship. Jack expects much from Ally, and does what he can to instill in her a sense of artistic responsibility — and it’s open to interpretation whether or not she follows his advice.
The major sticking point, however, is that for a big, emotional movie with plentiful payoffs, the filmmakers kind of flub the climax. One could say the turn of events is foreshadowed from the start, and a certain detail’s singular mention adds specificity, but what happens isn’t wholly believable based on recent happenings nor is it exactly consistent with the film’s overarching themes.
To its credit, A Star Is Born rebounds nicely, but the inability to sell that major event prevents it from delivering the sob-inducing ending toward which it’s seemingly heading all along.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Warner Bros.)