I had a curious combination of being mortified/excited/curious about ‘A Star Is Born’ since I saw its trailer a couple of months ago. Full Disclosure: I have never really been a fan of Lady Gaga (I would say I am on the opposite side of that spectrum) so that might explain my indifference. (As a matter of fact, I got an invitation to an advanced screening and I declined) I think I wanted to see the film with friends who will be more enthusiastic about it, as I don’t really want to be in a ‘cynical’ mood, and if I were alone I definitely would be not as objective.
And the first half an hour of it is thrilling. And whatever I felt previously about Gaga, I thought she was fantastic in the beginning parts of the film, and I confess to weeping as she, as Ally, sings ‘La Vie En Rose,’ and that will remain my favorite part of the film – not only because it’s a great musical number, but because I love the context of its scene: as Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson lays eyes on her, he (and we) know that a certain magic is starting to happen here, and we all see it unfolding before our eyes. The next couple of scenes are as great, as they get to know each other, and the intimacy between them is revealed. We see how two souls connect, and very few movies get to capture that moment. And of course, that scene where Jackson pulls Ally to sing with him ‘Shallow,’ in the middle of the concert, is cinematic heaven – the high of that is the emotional highlight of the movie, when you tell yourself, ‘Wow this is so great, and I can’t wait to see what happens next…’
And then the movie starts to fall flat. The narrative just isn’t there. In previous iterations of this story, we see the woman’s star ascend, making her mentor/lover antagonistic, jealous as his ego is bruised. Here, Jackson’s alcoholism is a ‘disease’ and nothing emotional really causes it (or at least we don’t get that impression) so we look for conflict that is really not there. And the film limps more, meandering and unfocused, before it tries to recover in the finale, the destination we all know it was headed for. At that point, I had been emotionally disconnected.
Yes, I was disappointed, as I wanted to love this film, and now just love it’s first part. Cooper’s direction is strong: the film has a distinctive point of view, but it seems to not know what to say: perhaps it meant to only essay a strong love story, and we are looking for more? And just like all actor-directors, Cooper is able to extract fantastic performances from his cast. Yes, Gaga is fantastic and proves to me she is a great actress, and I truly believe there will be greater performances coming from her in the future. (There are now talks of her doing ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway) Most times, too, she displays that inimitable ‘star quality’ that very few have – there are scenes here you cannot stop looking at her. I leave my highest marks, though, to Cooper as Jackson Mane – he exposes his heart here without putting it on his sleeve. How many times the could have crossed over to hysterical and overwrought, but he knows how to pull it in. I won’t be mad if he wins accolades.
And I wish I liked the music, but then again country-rock is not really my genre. I was careful not to listen to the soundtrack before seeing the film, and had high hopes with the ‘eleven o clock’ number, ‘I’ll Never Love Again,’ but that song sounds like a Mariah Carey ballad from the early aughts (Gaga curiously even sings it in the vein)
All in all, there’s a better movie in here somewhere, though I think a lot of people think it’s already there. For me, it’s imperfectness in the middle section muddles its excellent first third, but you know what, the perfectness of that first part is worth the price of admission.