A Star is Born (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a powerful retelling of A Star is Born. While there are a few issues with some of the story choices, Cooper’s adaptation is full of charm, great music, and a compelling love story.  Seeing it at the AMC Dolby Theater at Disney Springs was the right call, as the sound is so amazing there that it’s hard to imagine a better screening experience.

A Star is Born worked really well despite its problems

The retelling of A Star is Born keeps the tradition alive with an aging male musician (though actor in the first two) who is watching his own career spiral out of control as a result of alcoholism, drug use, and age as he finds inspiration in a young female singer (actress) he opts to take under his wing. The two ultimately find more than just a shared talent and new love blossoms. In this version, Jack (Cooper) finds Ally (Lady Gaga) who is singing in a bar he wanders into to assuage his need to drink and is instantly taken by her and her talent.

The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is palpable. Cooper is the most charming he’s been in a while, and the relationship that forms is undeniable. Gaga performs admirably throughout the film, with the exception of just a couple of scenes that felt insincere, in which Ally’s anger gets the better of her. For example, Jack takes Ally to a cop bar the night of their first meeting. Ally gets inexplicably defensive over Jack and punches an aggressive  “fan” in the face. It felt a bit unnatural, though not entirely unbelievable.

Some of the issues I have this film may be a result of my recent watching of the 1954 version. James Mason’s character, Norman Maine, is clearly at the end of his acting career. His issues with alcohol have given him a reputation of being hard to work with, and the studios aren’t willing to keep him on contract. It’s an important part of the plot, as he watches the woman he loves and believes in skyrocket while his star plummets. I’m not sure if Cooper’s film is definitively trying to imply that Jack’s career is on the way down…but whether or not it is isn’t clear enough in the film. There is some hint of it, partly with the discussion of his hearing loss (which is another element of the film that felt unnecessary), and a job that doesn’t go as he expected later in the film. Otherwise, Jack’s career seems to be in good shape.

The supporting performances from Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, and Andrew Dice Clay are also very strong. While they don’t get a lot of screen time in A Star is Born, each actor brings something to the film that makes it better. Elliot, as Jack’s much older brother, gets at least three scenes that are both memorable and powerful. Chappelle is barely in it, but his charm and friendship to Jack make him extremely likable. Dice Clay is Gaga’s father – who I didn’t recognize at first – and he plays the role very well. When he has to play the protective father, he nails it.

Final thoughts…

Ultimately, A Star Is Born is a great experience and a terrific debut for Cooper behind the camera. The music makes the film a standout of the year. While I mainly enjoyed it, I can’t get past a few of the little things that I was hung up on. In the end, A Star is Born earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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