We go Gaga over it.
This is an advance review out of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Bradley Cooper makes an impressive directorial debut with the fourth iteration of the classic tale Hollywood is obsessed with, and while the plot starts to drag in the second act, Cooper manages to bring it all back together in a moving third act that sneaks up on you, grabs your soul, and hugs it.
The film starts with the deafening sound of a concert, the sound design making you feel both the excitement of being in a fully booked arena, and the pain of incredibly loud music. You will want to cover your ears at times, probably a way for the filmmakers to make you sympathize more with the lead character of Jackson Maine (Cooper, pulling double duty as director and co-lead) who – in addition to being a drunk and a drug addict – is also suffering from tinnitus.
A Star Is Born follows the same story as the previous versions, but it’s the 1976 movie with Barbra Streisand that’s closest to Cooper’s vision – with some major changes. This version of Maine may be drunk and popping pills 24/7, but he still is capable of selling out concert arenas and giving incredible performances. When Maine runs out of booze in his car, he enters a drag bar and meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a singer so good the drag queens allow her (a woman) to have her own show. As with every Hollywood love story involving a celebrity, Jackson instantly falls for Ally as she is seemingly the only woman on Earth that treats him for what he is – a drunk.
The biggest differences between this and previous versions of A Star Is Born revolve around Ally. She is a more active character this time around, with a script that makes her achieve success by herself instead of getting a hand out from Cooper’s character. Lady Gaga is a revelation as Ally, and her performance and character seem like a natural continuation of her documentary. From the moment we meet her, Ally doesn’t take crap from anyone. She doesn’t hesitate to call Jackson on his addiction problems, she even punches a guy at a cop bar for bothering her and Jackson.
Cooper and co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters make another big difference in this film by showing Ally and Jackson as collaborators, exploring their relationship with more depth than any of the previous versions of the story that keeps the two intertwined stories balanced throughout. There’s an underlining theme about what it means to be an artist, which is used to explain why Ally is so special. As Cooper’s Jackson says “everyone is an artist, everyone is talented at something. But not everyone has something to say.”
Cooper takes the iconic role of the male star in decline and makes it his own, while at the same time paying homage to the actors that came before him. It helps that he is a hell of a good singer, and can stand toe to toe with someone as established as Lady Gaga and fool you into thinking he has as much experience as her.
Unfortunately, while the first act is full of energy and has a great pace, A Star Is Born begins to drag in the second act after it rushes through Ally’s rise to fame and begins to focus on her established career and the decline of Jackson’s. It simply feels like a chore the writers had to endure to get to the famous climax of the classic tale. The third act focuses entirely on emotional reactions and the culmination of the core relationship of the film. While Cooper’s Jackson has the bigger dramatic arc in the second half, we have seen that plenty of times before. This version adds an extended third act that focuses on Ally and how she reacts to everything that’s happened to her so far, from her own career rise, and her relationship with Jackson, culminating in the film’s best song which you can expect to be performed at the Academy Awards next year.
Even if A Star Is Born loses itself in the middle, Bradley Cooper manages to bring it all back together in the last 20 minutes, with a musical performance from Lady Gaga that will break your heart and leave no dry eye in the theater.