I don’t really know why, but when the trailer for A Star is Born came out, I simply couldn’t look away. The trailer opens with the camera panning over the crowd at Coachella. The first picks of acoustic guitar begin as Bradley Cooper croons the lonesome Americana-tinged, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die…” We are then introduced to a cute, scrappy young woman (Lady Gaga) with a powerful voice, who steals the song and trailer away from the booze-soaked rocker. Fist fights! Weeping! A love story! A downward spiral! Gaga’s astonishing vocal-fireworks climax of the soon-to-be-ubiquitous song “Shallow”…
Sure, I knew the whole story from previous incarnations of this oft-told tale, but I was so ready for this version of A Star Is Born. And, luckily, I wasn’t disappointed.
In my opinion, the first hour of A Star Is Born is darn-near perfect. We meet boozy rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper) as he swings into a random drag bar after his own performance in front of thousands. He’s looking for a fix, but instead is dazzled by a performance by one of the few cis-female singers in the joint. Ally (Lady Gaga) was told she’d never make it because of her looks, but she’s got talent to spare. Jack, in his sweet-drunk blurry haze is smitten like a puppy dog. Jack wants to peel off her eyebrow and touch her nose. Ally punches a random fan in his defense. She sings to him in a parking lot. He drops her off at dawn.
Their weird courtship is exhilarating as she is pulled into his world, first on a private jet, then just as abruptly onto a stage in front of thousands. Go ahead and laugh at the idea that his band would be able to whip out a fully formed song (the earworm “Shallow”) on stage mere hours after the parking lot serenade, but it works. Ally is terrified, then just as quickly, is in her element, with her talent exploding in release.
Maybe I wasn’t entirely convinced that Jack and Ally’s connection was a passionate love story. It’s more that they are in love with what the other brings to their lives. In his case, someone grounded who reminds him of the purity of music; in her case, someone who has achieved the musical success she craves. But as anyone knows who has seen any previous iteration, Ally’s star is rising, while Jackson’s is falling. The second hour is a more sobering (no pun intended) look at the ravages of addiction, as Jack’s troubles threaten to pull down Ally with him.
Lady Gaga is simply fabulous in this role. The first time you see her, she is unrecognizable, with her brown hair and makeup-free face… a million miles from her pop persona. This allows her to immediately disappear into her role. We all know she’s a great singer, but she also completely owns her scenes as an actress. Cooper impresses with a completely passable rock-star voice and vibe. For the majority of the movie, you can practically smell the booze on him. His growly, grumbly voice may sound distractingly forced, but it’s later explained as a conscious mimic of his adored much-older brother (Sam Elliott, who does the most in a small role).
Where the film falters is in the second half of the film with its curious judginess of the pop music world where Ally soars. Her manager (Rafi Gavron) is a cartoonish villain who may as well be twirling a non-existent moustache. His insistence on Ally having accompanying dancers is scoffed at by Jackson. And, oh, wait until you hear her pop hit, “Why Did You Do That?” with the cackle-worthy classic lyrics, “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?” Yes, we’ll assume they were written in jest for effect, but is pop really so much worse than sweaty, mumbly rock n’ roll? It’s just different, that’s all.
Whenever I’m busted watching the Star Is Born trailer, slack-jawed, for the umpteenth time, my partner says somewhat accusingly, “You LOVE it!” And you know what? I do! The drama, the rise the fall, the shallow sha-ha-ha-hallllow-ness of it. I can’t help it. I can’t look away.
If you can’t get enough of the music, you can hop directly to the songs as featured in the film. There are music videos for “Shallow,” “Always Remember Us This Way,” “Look What I Found,” and “I’ll Never Love Again.” There are also raw peeks into a few jam sessions, including Cooper and Gaga, very early on, singing “Midnight Special” at her home piano. The making-of documentary is the usual love fest between the actors and Cooper who also directed. But it is fun to see the respect early cast-readings, including improvising Andrew Dice Clay (as Ally’s dad), and Gaga singing her scenes, causing the cast and crew to burst into applause. They could probably tell early on that the were onto something special.