Full review at The American Conservative.
Category Archives: Contemporary
Some movies succeed by virtue of creative plotting, while others double down on sheer majesty of execution. “A Star Is Born”—Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s new musical romantic drama—is the latter sort of film. The third remake of the 1937 original, “Star” soars on the strength of its central leads and the raw energy of the music at its heart.
When late-career rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper) discovers insecure waitress Ally (Gaga) singing at a drag bar, he’s immediately captivated. Soon, Ally is singing onstage alongside him, and the accolades begin to pile up. Almost before Ally knows what’s happening, fame and fortune come knocking: a record deal, a tour, and a new public persona are hers for the taking. But the good graces of L.A. exact a nasty price: as Jackson begins to spiral down into alcohol and drug abuse, Ally’s managers push her to reinvent herself as a Katy Perry-esque pop goddess (authenticity is out; sultriness is in).
These aren’t exactly novel story beats, but that’s not the point. What really matters is the style and power of the delivery, and both stars deliver: Cooper and Gaga share real chemistry—the essential core of any movie like this—making their interactions endlessly watchable.
For that matter, Cooper proves himself not only a strong actor, but a highly capable director with a flair for distinctive storytelling. Just to name one example, in an extended early scene, Ally and Jackson duck out of a bar melee and head to a local supermarket after Ally punches a snide commenter. As Jackson tapes a bag of frozen peas to her swelling hand, Ally shares her story, her dreams, and her first tentative attempts at songwriting. It’s a sweet, memorable sequence that likely would’ve been cut from a movie more obsessed with its own mass-market appeal.
But perhaps the most distinctive feature of “Star” is the visceral power of its sonic landscape. Not only are the songs themselves hauntingly memorable—anyone who’s seen the trailers for this film has already glimpsed Gaga’s showstopping performance of “Shallow”—the cinematography complements them in superb fashion. Admirably, Cooper resists the tendency of some music dramas to rely heavily on wide-angle shots of screaming crowds: instead, we’re present right alongside Jackson and Ally, feeling every twang, every rasp, every rippling chord. It’s a relentlessly immersive technique that infuses every song with a sense of real intensity. Suffice it to say that this is a movie that demands to be experienced on the best sound system available. (Also, it’s worth stressing that no matter what you might think of Gaga’s public persona, her voice really is stunning.)
In short, one leaves “Star” feeling like they’ve gone on an emotional odyssey. Yes, it’s a long and sprawling film filled with ups and downs, but somehow this never feels indulgent. Rather, it feels classic—a throwback to an era before films were tailor-made to succeed in Chinese markets, advance some sociopolitical cause, or pander for Oscar attention. (Okay, maybe there’s a bit of that last one. But it’s not overwhelming.) If you liked “La La Land” or its ilk, “Star” is certainly not a film to miss.