Film Review: “A Star Is Born,” Yet Again

Film poster: “A Star Is Born”

A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.

How one reacts to Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born will very much depend on one’s tolerance for maudlin sentimentality mixed with romance. A fan of Puccini’s opera La Bohème, or stories like it, where a tragic love story collides with a mortal illness? You might have a more natural affinity for the core narrative of this film than do I. Then again, this is the fourth time Hollywood has told this tale (made previously in 1937, 1954 and 1976), so there have clearly been many viewers, over time, who have found the premise appealing. Whatever my feelings about the overall plot, at least I found this new iteration well-directed and -acted, with mostly interesting music. Count this qualified appreciated as a semi-endorsement, then.

Cooper (Burnt), making his directorial debut, stars as Jackson Maine, a big-time country-music star with a major addiction problem. One night, post-concert, in search of booze, he stops off at a bar where young singer Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. Her routine charms Jackson – or Jack, as he prefers to be called – and after a magical, if drunken, night on the town, he invites her to perform onstage with him at his next concert. Possessed of some powerful pipes, and a songwriter to boot, Ally’s prospects look good. Just as things start to go her way, however, Jack’s drinking and drugging get worse. With their respective career trajectories headed in opposite directions, will their love hold strong? More importantly, will Jack survive his own impending downfall? These are the questions, and in lesser hands, this tired narrative might be excruciating. Lucky for us, Cooper and Gaga make it watchable.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A STAR IS BORN ©Warner Bros.

Indeed, Cooper offers himself as a different kind of character than we have seen from him before, and not just because of his lower voice, although the gravelly tones do support the rest of his world-weary performance. Gaga plays her own part with solid depth of feeling, revealing herself a fine actor, as well. And they both can sing (though we knew this already for her), which is always nice in a film about musicians. They also have good chemistry together. I just wish, for once, that someone might change up the details so it’s not, yet again, an older guy helping a younger woman catch a break via his relationship with her. Why is this still a thing? Maybe if we didn’t keep seeing it at the movies . . .

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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