As Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and Lady Gaga’s first serious film role, “A Star is Born” shines as a reminder that sometimes the simplest tales can be the most effective. Cooper stars as Jackson Maine alongside Gaga as Ally, with Sam Elliott filling in as the supporting role of Bobby, Maine’s big brother and manager. The film also has a star-studded supporting cast, including Dave Chappelle as George Stone, Anthony Ramos as Ramon and Andrew Dice Clay as Lorenzo, with cameos by real-life celebrities, such as Halsey. “A Star is Born” premiered Oct. 5, 2018, with an opening weekend box office gross of $42.9 million, coming in second behind “Venom,” also premiering that weekend.
This version of “A Star is Born” marks the fourth incarnation of the original 1937 film with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. While the original film was not a musical, instead focusing on the star machine of Golden Era cinema, the basic plot remains the same throughout all versions: a relatively unknown woman is discovered by an industry veteran. As their relationship grows, the woman rises in fame and the veteran sees his fame wane. The result is tragedy, the specifics of which change from version to version. It was not until the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason that a musical element was added to the plot, in a critique of the big movie musical trend of the time. In the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson the musical aspect turns to popular rock. In all aspects, it is the 1976 version of “A Star is Born” that the 2018 film most closely emulates.
“A Star is Born” takes the time to explore issues of mental illness and addiction, which often go overlooked in celebrities. This takes on additional importance in the wake of the seeming epidemic celebrity suicides and overdoses in recent memory. Jackson Maine’s issues are portrayed as multifaceted, stemming from childhood trauma, hearing loss and the general difficulties that come with becoming a star and then seeing that go away. The pain and grief that results from Maine’s illness is both upsetting and bittersweet, and not a dry eye was in the movie theater when the film ended. The realism of Maine’s illness hits perfectly.
Where acting is concerned, Cooper is almost unrecognizable as Jackson Maine, donning a Country-Western aesthetic and slurring accent. There were times when the accent did get overbearing to the point of incomprehensibility, but that was kept to a minimum. Lady Gaga stands out as Ally, with emotional vulnerability that blurs the line between acting and reality. The only main issue with “A Star is Born” is that Sam Elliott’s character, Bobby, is severely underused. While he pops in and out of the plot as needed, taking on a sort of guardian role for Maine, he drops off the map for too long while exploring other paths.
The film, while over two hours, never feels like it is dragging or padding out the plot. In fact, every moment feels perfectly placed. Cooper’s directing is wonderful, with fantastic use of the live singing and lingering shots. Color theory also plays a vital role, with different color motifs showing up throughout different points in the film.
“A Star is Born” is rated R and has a runtime of 135 minutes.