My experience leading up to finally watching A Star is Born played a lot into my reaction to it. While I used to ignore personal thoughts and preconceived notions about a film, I think it’s important to discuss how we feel about films before we see them and how that can affect our experiences. So, I’ll start there.
I don’t remember hearing much about A Star is Born long before its release. I hadn’t seen any of the previous versions of this story and still haven’t. Bradley Cooper making his directorial debut with this film was a surprising thing to find out, and Lady Gaga starring alongside him only made me more skeptical about the film’s chances at success. Then it hit theaters in October of 2018, and everyone seemed to love it. I had no interest in seeing it and didn’t really have the time anyway. A couple of my friends saw it, and they loved it. I finally got to see it when the movie theater on my campus showed it last weekend. I sat down with thirty-ish people, a big number for showings at our theater, and was finally ready to see A Star is Born.
Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The opening scene of this movie gave me chills. The raw nature of the concert, the spontaneity of the music, and Cooper’s raw singing as Jackson Maine all blew me away. The first scene with Ally (Lady Gaga) also offered a lot of comedy and charm, and the title card slowly fading in was masterful. All of my skepticism and cynicism faded away. Then, Jackson Maine goes to a drag bar to watch Ally sing in French. And of course, she flirts with him from the stage. And of course, he comes backstage after she sings to tell her how great she was. Then I realized there was nothing new here besides the actors. My cynicism slowly returned.
The story of this movie isn’t one without merit. A classic tale of two lovers torn apart by a rise to fame and a disappointment in what that life is really like. However, there are so many emotional moments in the first half that just feel unwarranted. Jackson punches his brother Bobby (Sam Elliot) overselling his father’s ranch and their father’s grave being gone when Bobby makes the perfectly rational explanation that he sold it because he couldn’t take care of it and tour with Jackson all the time, and the grave had washed away in unrelated events. Then Bobby quits, and we’re supposed to be sad about it, even though we’ve known Bobby for all of ten minutes. And you only get all of this information delivered if you can tell what the characters are saying due to all of the mumbling and bad sound mixing with the diegetic music in each scene. Near the end of the movie, Jackson says something to Bobby that makes him cry, and I didn’t even understand what he said.
Sam Elliott in A Star is Born, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Ally has an interesting arc, quickly rising in fame only for her natural talent for songwriting and performing to be squandered by the corporate machine. At least, I hope that’s what that aspect of the movie was going for because she started making music decidedly below caliber for even Lady Gaga herself. She is embarrassed by Jackson’s addictions having an impact on their public image and gets into a fight with him before realizing she needs to actually try to help her husband get over his addictions.
With all my cynicism towards the typical storyline of this movie, I at least had faith that Cooper’s direction would at least be appealing on a basic visual level. The movie does look pretty, even if it overindulges itself on lens flares and money shots of the two leads. However, Cooper’s direction of emotional sequences came off as over-the-top to a horrible level, and the jump cuts throughout the third act to give these emotional moments some kind of abruptness were comical. One, in particular, made me laugh out loud, and I felt bad that I probably ruined the moment for the people around me if the edit itself hadn’t taken them out of the moment too.
All in all, A Star is Born is a decent Academy Award frontrunner. Compared to what else we have on the docket this year, I guess it could be much worse.
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