A Star Is Born But Only In The Mind Of Bradley Cooper

By Leigh Monson

   A Star Is Born, by all rights, should be a fantastic film. It has the pedigree of being based on a timelessly remade story, with the most recent previous iteration being the 1976 version starring Barbara Streisand, and with Lady Gaga playing the titular star in 2018 it feels like the sort of destined move to make Gaga a real life movie star and win passionate acclaim in the process.
   And yet, despite being the primary reason many would want to see another take on A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga is not the star of this movie, nor could she genuinely be considered a co-lead. Instead, A Star Is Born plays more like a vanity project for star and director Bradley Cooper, who wills the pieces of this drama to revolve around his star to the detriment of all others.
   If you’ve seen this film’s trailer, you have essentially seen a condensed version of A Star Is Born’s first act, which is where the film shines most and appears to have the most potential. Cooper’s Jack is an alcoholic, substance-abusing rock star who is on the perpetual edge of collapse. One night after a show he stumbles into a drag bar to find Ally (Lady Gaga), a woman with a beautiful singing voice he immediately falls for. After a night of enjoying each other’s company in which Ally reveals herself to be a songwriter as well as a singer, Jack convinces her to join him onstage at a show, which propels her into stardom of her own that threatens to overshadow Jack’s as he slips further into chemical dependency.
   Now, in terms of visual style, cinematic language, and musical acumen, A Star Is Born is a shockingly confident production as Cooper demonstrates himself to be an excellent freshman director. He shoots concert scenes with the proficiency of actual concert videos, and his understanding of sound’s ability to move us is striking in its prescience. And he wraps this auditory splendor around a narrative that allows him to act with a dark and vicious intensity, building Jack into a character whose fall is hard to watch, stubbornly stumbling again and again as he slowly realizes he’s holding back the woman he loves from achieving her own greatness. It’s a great performance that feels calculated to win awards, and once you realize that, the film’s faults all fall into place.
   Prestige, award-baiting projects are nothing new, but A Star Is Born is built on a special kind of narcissism by which Cooper turns a narrative about the deleterious effects of substance abuse in on itself, showcasing self-destruction without adequately exploring the damage this abuse does to others. Sure, Jack’s actions demonstrably hurt Ally’s career and their relationship, but after that first act Ally ceases to have any sort of internal life, merely acting as a supporting player to Jack’s arc as any potential for her self-realization becomes firmly planted in his downfall. Ally never becomes the star that is apparently born because the entirety of her motivation reverts to focusing on Jack whenever she’s given the opportunity to spread her wings. This is certainly intentional from a thematic standpoint, but in execution we never see Ally struggle with her choices, never see her as anything but the girl that Jack discovered and is now slavishly devoted to him. Lady Gaga’s performance is superb, but the character is barely more dimensional than the other supporting roles that serve as sounding boards for Cooper’s monologuing, and the film feels half-baked and hollow as a result.
   And that’s a real shame, because there is a lot to like in the individual elements of A Star Is Born, particularly Lady Gaga’s songs and emotional supporting turns from Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay. But Bradley Cooper turned a story about two artists falling in love at antagonistic stages of their careers into a self-aggrandizing one man show, where every other player is expected to prop him up to Oscar glory. It’s a cynical exercise that taints the experience, and the wasted potential leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. A star isn’t so much born as it is allowed to shine a light on the ego of its creator.

2.5/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.