I can’t remember the last time I’ve looked forward to a movie as much as A Star Is Born. Probably evidence enough that I’m writing my first blog post in over a year and it’s about this movie, so it had to have awoken something inside of me to actually put forth an effort and get this out. It’s so messed up that we live in a world nowadays where memes can literally make you excited to see a movie. I remember seeing the trailer for A Star Is Born in the theatres in front of some movie I can’t remember and thinking, “in theory that looks good, but it looks so ungodly cheesy.” I thought that for months, enjoyed the trailer when I had to watch it again, but then suddenly one day something clicked. People started making fun of Lady Gaga’s “Haaaaa Ah Ah Ah Ahhhhh” singing from the trailer, then the ridiculous Bradley Cooper lines and how he said them became memes as well. This was a movie that looked like it was going to suck, so the memes fell in line, until critics saw it and it was actually good. Fast forward a bit because this is already getting too long, and with all this, heavily meme-reliant, my hype for A Star Is Born couldn’t have been any bigger. Now on the other side of seeing it, ironically it delivered exactly what the trailer promised, a messy, over-dramatic cliche fest peppered with great moments that never get strung along into something wholly worthy of its stock.
The biggest problem with A Star Is Born is that there’s so much of varying quality stuffed into a bag that can’t help but overflow from everything jammed inside. It’s a film that never really knows what it wants to be or should be, varying from scene to scene like there’s three different movies crammed in here. The best stuff from the movie, maybe the first half or so, comes before the actual star has been born. Everything with Bradley Cooper’s Jack and Lady Gaga’s Ally fostering their relationship from meeting in a bar all the way through to before Gaga actually becomes a full-fledged pop star is great. It does a nice job balancing the large rock n roll moments with the intimate relationship building and emotional pulling that both characters do. The latter half goes off the deep end (not in the shallow anymore…) and doubles down on too many of the cliches that the film did well enough in the first half to eschew, because everything else around it was working at such a nice clip, but can no longer do when everything gets a little too far out from under what the film originally was and what made it good in the first place.
Another thing that works against the film, and too be fair has done the same in the three previous versions, is how light-speed this film works from the development of Jack and Ally’s relationship to Gaga becoming a pop star. It’s something you really just have to accept, but it really does no favours to a film that’s already all over the place and messy in the first place, disorienting you even further to how you’re supposed to feel. There’s a scene where Jack and Ally get in a huge fight, Jack says some incredibly mean and should be plot-affecting stuff to Ally, until they just make up in the next scene. The film somehow feels rushed and over-long at the same time. It feels long, but also like they’ve put everything on fast-forward, something again that just causes disorientation more than anything.
I felt there were some missed opportunities here, as well. There was a great opportunity to do something about how Ally became basically trapped by Jack, and how no matter how much Jack would self-destruct that she would always be there. It’s almost a form of mental abuse, a Stockholm syndrome that Ally was stuck in that never gets explored or fleshed out to the depths it could’ve been, instead you’re just to assume that she just LOVES him a lot and that’s why she sticks around. It gets so icky reading things this way, though, as it’s clear how much of a mess Jack is and how Ally sticks around the whole way through, even when she’s constantly mentioned herself about how bad his drinking and destructive behaviour is, yet she still sticks around no matter what. As much as they told a fairly good “love” story between the two, it never feels like some kind of deep inseparable love that’s never been seen before and thus could excuse any of this stuff in some way, it’s all just very human and leaves Ally looking more foolish than anything.
Bradley Cooper’s direction is largely good, if not mostly unnoticeable besides a few choice directing flares that undermine his already emotion-packed scenes and only serves to cheapen them. A few times he almost “pauses” on a moment, like early on when Jack wants to touch Ally’s nose, Cooper the director takes you out of the moment, switches up the camera and music, puts on some slow motion and lets Cooper stroke her nose in a sensual manner that’s supposed to evoke this special, first contact-breaking moment, but in actuality it just seems jarring and funny because of that, in what was supposed to be a relatively serious moment. The same technique is used a few more times throughout the film, almost as if Cooper remembered he was directing this film and wanted to put some kind of “stamp” on it so as not to just make it some basic run-of-the-mill directing job, unfortunately it just makes it seem all the more out of place.
Either way, the performances are what holds the film together and Cooper and Gaga are nothing if not committed. As much as Gaga has been heralded coming into it (and rightfully so, although she’s not quite as good as I anticipated) it’s Cooper who somehow turns in a performance both ridiculous and affecting, one that does well to focus on his charm inside the sleaze and gruff that he does just good enough of a job to pull off. It’s funny in parts seeing Gaga herself, the in-real-life pop mega star, play this regular girl with almost literal stars in her eyes, but she pulls it off quite easily, making you believe her both when she’s cleaning up after her father in their house or singing her heart out in a packed stadium. Both actors work excellent together, individually, in small moments and when pulling off all the music performances. Speaking of, I dare you not to have several of the, surprisingly great, original songs stuck in your head after the credits roll. There are a couple major songs in here they repeat a few times in the movie, purposefully to get it ear-wormed into your head.
In the end, A Star Is Born ends up as a beautiful mess. A scattershot of a lot of ideas, tones and stories that never coalesce into a mass sum of its parts. While within this collection of cliche, repetition, hilariously horrible foreshadowing (there’s a bunch and serves as the main highlight on how devastatingly on the nose and devoid of subtlety the film is), soap opera beats and over-philosophizing line deliveries that sound like they’re coming from a parody, there’s unmistakable craft and care over the top of the choppy seas that this ship sails. Its pair of performances are as real as their characters portend to be, while easy lynchpins to make you feel, they make you feel, nonetheless.