Man, some movies are just bound to get remade until the end of time. Probably because general audiences don’t realize that the one they’re watching is a remake of a remake. Kind of like how The Magnificent Seven from two years ago was a remake of The Magnificent Seven from 1960, which is a remake of the Japanese film Seven Samurai. Already knew that one? Well what about 2011’s The Thing, which most will recognize as a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. But did you know that was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World? Uh-huh. And I’ll just preemptively add the inevitable remake of the 1983 classic gangster flick Scarface to that list, the latter being a remake of the Scarface from 1932. Those all being the second remakes – thus creating a trilogy – here comes A Star is Born, the third remake in its series, ergo the fourth to bear that title. As a little refresher course, the original A Star is Born came out in 1937, that one being the only to center on Hollywood stardom. Next came A Star is Born as a musical in 1954, which garnered Judy Garland her first Academy Award nomination. And finally, the one most are heretofore aware of, came A Star is Born in 1976, which though not amazingly received, is memorable for pairing Barbra Streisand with Kris Kristofferson. And even though there have been so many iterations, it’s a simple story that allows itself to be retold feasibly in relation to the times, as our outlook on the industry and fame evolves. Of course, you’d expect each telling to be less novel than the last, hitting the same general beats and following essentially the same character arcs, but I’d argue that this new one is the best of the bunch. Granted, I’ve yet to see the Garland version, but I did manage to get my hands on the original and the Streisand version this summer to prepare, and though I deem the original to be wholly affecting and hold up thoroughly through the decades, never has the story been so technically crafted to perfection as it’s been done here. I think it was safe to say Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga would be dynamite in front of the camera given their recent track records, but it’s Cooper behind the camera in his directorial debut that really brings this one home as to be not only the best telling of this story, but one of the best films of the year.
In A Star is Born, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is an alcoholic country rockstar who has seen his best days behind him. One evening while finding himself in a drag bar, he chances upon one of the singers, Ally (Lady Gaga) belting out “La Vie en rose,” much to Maine’s delight. After spending the rest of the night together, Jackson and Ally develop a strong connection, with Jackson learning much of Ally’s trepidations towards singing. Though a singer and a songwriter, Ally holds anxieties over singing her own songs in public, doubting she has the actual looks to make it in the business. That’s not good enough for Jackson, however, who after whisking her off to one of his concerts, persuades her to take a chance and sing a duet with him, and not just any duet, but one of her own. Soon enough Ally becomes a sensation herself, touring with Jackson as they establish a love affair. But the closer she gets to Jackson, the closer she comes to his demons, as she soon begins to realize that managing her own rising star and his descent into addiction is going to consume everything she has to offer him.
Now that I’ve gone down this Star is Born rabbit hole this year, I’ve realized this kind of story isn’t exclusive to just these series of films, as it’s essentially been featured in one of my favorite Best Picture winners in 2011’s The Artist – criminally dismissed in the following years, if you ask me. And while I don’t think this most recent retelling is quite up to par with that film, it’s pretty gosh-darned close. And if you were to tell me the general paradigm of “guy on the downswing in his life/career meets a girl and raises her stardom only to surpass him” has been done even more times than that, I wouldn’t doubt you. Come to think of it, I don’t know why at least one version wouldn’t be gender-swapped, but because The Artist is the primary example that I can pull out of my ass so quickly, I’m going to leave it there. Regardless, it’s the universality between the characters that strikes such an authentic chord – my one and only music pun of this review, I promise – that allows it to be told time and time again. In short, it’s simple, and sometimes it’s the simplest stories that make for the most relatable and the most malleable. You could argue that making another one with virtually the same ending is superfluous, but I think the movie speaks for itself when it says it most definitely is not. I challenge you to find another non-genre drama film this year that displays the kind of pathos and raw emotionality that draws such a throng of audiences to put down their two cents and watch it on the big screen. Now, you can also argue that a lot of the draw comes from Lady Gaga headlining a feature film, and yeah, it does, but more and more are general audiences able to smell a stinker when they see one, and the word had already been out on how good this was for weeks in advance. If the opposite had been true, that this was nothing but a try-hard sob story from an actor that can’t quite direct and a singer that can’t quite act, this would have gone the way of the Madonna-directed W.E. from 2011. Never heard of it? Yeah, exactly.
And speaking about the actor who tried his hand at directing – which almost sounds like a tale as old as time as well given the last thirty-odd years or so – Bradley Cooper is phenomenal in tying the rest of the film together. When you think about actors-turned-directors, you’ll still think about names like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck, but I’m willing to wager we’ll be including Cooper in that prestigious list by the time his career is said and done. If there’s anything the 1976 version of A Star is Born was missing, it was a legitimate sense of directorial finesse and fine camerawork, as it relied far, far too heavily on the chemistry between Streisand and Kristofferson – which wasn’t all that profound to begin with – to deliver the goods. Not the problem here, however, as he is seemingly already aware of what shots people will conjure up in their minds in the years to come when they think of this movie. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s been paired with master cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who’s done quite the array of work from things like Iron Man to Black Swan. Together, they make sure that even when the drama isn’t at its zenith and sparks aren’t flying, that even in the quiet moments the mood and energy is palpable.
But at the end of the day we’re still here to see Cooper and Gaga together making googly eyes at each other, and they do not disappoint. While their relationship itself may not be the most remarkable and groundbreaking thing since Her – remember, third remake – it’s the way it’s handled and fostered that makes it so believable. When they first meet it’s not like time slows down or fireworks go off in the distance like some other movies. They allow the viewer to watch their chemistry build gradually, even if their romance blossoms literally overnight. So instead of wondering what they each see in the other and simply accepting it because the script demands it, we’re allowed to experience it with them, the highs and the lows. Having said that, it still wouldn’t work if the two actors weren’t dynamite together, and thankfully they are and then some. These are two rich, complex characterizations unfolding before us with living, breathing wants and desires, brought to life so thoughtfully and expertly. This obviously will go down as Gaga’s highest marks yet of her nascent acting career, and don’t be surprised to see her be billed in her next feature as “Academy Award Nominee Lady Gaga.” Only time will tell whether she adds that coveted award to her already burgeoning trophy shelf, but considering the Academy is looking to appeal to casual viewers and moviegoers, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch. And expect similar praises for Bradley Cooper as he picks up his fourth acting nomination in seven years, as this may be his best chance to win as well seeing as the Best Actor race may not be quite as stacked as it usually is. But don’t expect the nominations to stop there for him, as he’ll also pick up ones for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture (as a producer). For the rest of the film, I’m counting on it getting one more acting nomination in the form of Sam Elliot getting one for Best Supporting Actor, as though it’s not the most spellbinding performance, it is solid and the Academy loves to hand out legacy nominations in the supporting categories to aging actors, á la Robert Duvall in The Judge. And speaking of judgement, the jury’s still out if A Star is Born will pick up any of these Oscars, but the one it seems a shoo-in for is Best Original Song, likely “Shallow.” So yeah, I guess either way Lady Gaga will be an Oscar winner.
This was pretty much always going to be a movie that either achieved the highest heights, or was viewed as an unnecessary disappointment. And though you could make a cogent argument regarding the whole “unnecessary” thing, I’m sure as sh*t glad that we got it. It remains to be seen whether this or Black Panther will be able to get people to care about awards season, but they’ll definitely be in the conversation, and deservedly so, too. And regarding the film in question here, sometimes there’s not a whole lot better than a wholly satisfying, well-constructed drama.
Final Score: 10/10