'A Star Is Born' film review: Latest remake is energized if uninspired
For a film now on its third remake, the "A Star Is Born" (opening in theaters nationwide Oct. 5) is a familiar, modern yet timeless story set against the backdrop of YouTube views and pop stardom. It's more than an incredible soundtrack - this drama affirms star Lady Gaga's talents in front of the camera as well as writer-director Bradley Cooper's vision behind the camera.
In short: An aging country music star (Cooper) discovers an unknown but talented singer (Gaga). While her career rockets to stardom, his begins a downward spiral. Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle also star.
Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and now Lady Gaga. Some legendary acts have headlined "A Star Is Born" remakes throughout the last six decades - and Gaga proves she's worthy of the mantle. She's perfectly cast as the waitress moonlighting as a singer - an every woman holding onto a fading dream but beaten down by life.
For this film to credible at all, the film couldn't just rely on some sort of stunt casting. Of course the multi-Grammy award winning singer has the voice to legitimize her character's undeniable talent - but the question was always "can she lead a film?" The answer is a resounding "yes!" So many shots are longer cuts smartly focused entirely on Gaga's character, allowing her nuanced performance to reveal her bravery or nerves. Her character is the beating heart of the film. Her joys are the audience's joys and her heartaches are the audience's heartaches.
If Gaga is the heart, then Cooper is the soul of "Star Is Born" -- and he proves himself every bit as legit on stage as Gaga is legitimate in front of the camera. His character's gravelly drawl imbues his superstar character with grounded, relateable humanity. He moves with a demoralized weariness as he goes through the motions of being a country music star -- except when he's with his love. Cooper balances a performance that is self-destructive and reckless while also passionate and inspired.
The most glaring weaknesses are those inherent to the essence of "A Star is Born" - the original and its two subsequent remakes. Every iteration follows the same general story arc - anyone who has seen one version has pretty much seen any version of this story. The fundamental weakness of this story is it doesn't have a clear goal for Cooper's character (or any male lead in the original or remakes). His character is defined more by the trajectory of his career than anything else. And the film only ends because his character - arguably not the protagonist - makes a choice ... leaving Gaga's character merely to react to his action. This is not the strongest way to end any story - and it's the way every version of "Star Is Born" ends.
Final verdict: The unbridled excitement of the first act gives way to a solid second act - and a heartbreaking yet less than satisfying third act resolution. Gaga is electrifying and Cooper admirably updated a classic story - but without taking any chances.
The 2018 iteration of "A Star Is Born" opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 5. This dramatic musical has a running time of 135 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.