A Phoenix Rising: Our Review of ‘A Star Is Born’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, TIFF '18 by - October 05, 2018
A Phoenix Rising: Our Review of ‘A Star Is Born’

You know…it’s not often that a movie gets us this conflicted…

On one hand, A Star Is Born has some truly unique and awe inspiring moments that are bordering on brilliance; not only from Bradley Cooper as a director but from the entire ensemble who is totally invested in the material…but on the other hand it has some clunky, ham-handed moments and visuals that make it very obvious this film was made by a first time filmmaker.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a rock star at the height of his powers, filling stadiums every night and living the rock and roll lifestyle to its apex, if only to drown out the demons in his head.  However all that is about to shift on its axis when one night after a show in search of a drink, he finds himself at a bar during a drag show…and that’s where he meets Ally (Lady Gaga).  She sings ‘La Vie En Rose’ and his life is changed forever.  He’s found his kindred musical spirit and does everything he can to encourage her to get her songs and her music out there in order to be heard.  But while their budding romance and her career are going nowhere but up, Jackson is on a spiral down and we’re left to wonder if Ally is his one hope at redemption and a life not filled with torment and angst.  The film is a quest to be something more than just the music and find genuine love and some kind of happiness while living your very best life.

There’s an unmistakeable feeling that some genuine lightning in a bottle has been captured here with A Star Is Born which makes for it having an incredibly epic sense of emotion.   A solid script and brilliant performances from an ensemble acting their ass off help to rise this material into something genuinely special, that is until some of Cooper’s obvious inexperience as a first time filmmaker come into play and drag us down from the realm of ‘brilliant’ to ‘pretty damn good’.

That being said, credit has to be given where credit is absolutely due and deserved.  What Bradley Cooper has pulled off here as a first time director is bordering on astonishing.  With performances filmed live in front of genuine audiences and mixing it in with some intensely personal photographic moments he gets performances and sets a mood that you just can’t look away from.  The script that Cooper co-wrote with Eric Roth and Will Fetters is solid and allows for the chemistry of the leads to shine through and it makes us believe and get invested in the love story between them.

However for everything Cooper does right behind the lens, he also over uses cheap tricks like extreme close-ups, over the shoulder shots and lens flares (we get it Brad, ‘A Star Is Born’).  It doesn’t ruin the movie by any means but you are left feeling very aware of what he’s doing.  Filmmakers are supposed to be manipulative by nature in order to get audiences to invest in their story, but it can be a little off putting when it’s obvious.  Cooper lacks that nuance, but he’ll get there with practice and has already shown what an adept learner and storyteller he has it in him to be.

From an acting standpoint there isn’t a person here in the ensemble who isn’t giving it their all to the point that they don’t necessarily feel like they are acting and we’re witnessing the lives of people who are truly emotionally invested in one another.  It’s a rarity in Hollywood cinema these days and it creates a raw power to the story that is unmatched in recent memory.

Bradley Cooper went to a vocal coach, learned how to sing, learned how to play guitar and truly put forth some transformative efforts to play Jackson Maine.

He was already a charismatic leading man, but to transition that into rock star mode takes some effort and he does it well, walking the three sided razor’s edge between affable, loveable and tortured with deft skill that is rarely seen in recent memory.

Opposite him though, Lady Gaga was an absolute revelation in her performance as Ally.  She was a woman who had given up on her dream and was Ok with that until she got swept off her feet by Jack.  She gives us a raw sense of the artist’s mindset and life as someone who doesn’t give up or cower in the big moments that Jack helps her realize for herself.

The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is just straight up electric and the moments where these two not only share the screen but the stage are the next level of dynamic performing, they play off of each other exceptionally well from minute one.  With this being the first role she’s ever had with any kind of depth and nuance to it, Lady Gaga knocks it out of the park and into the next zip code with a performance that just might net her two Oscars come Academy award seasons (I’m calling it now though she’s a lock for Best Song with Shallows).

Cooper and Gaga aren’t even alone in their brilliance as Sam Elliott felt invigorated and inspired playing Cooper’s older brother, Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father and Dave Chappelle in a small yet poignant role as Cooper’s long time friend managed to capture the exact essence and nuance that was needed in the course of this story.

Sure, A Star Is Born is a glitzy melodrama about lovers and finding the ability to love oneself but it’s about so much more at the same time.  It’s a film that encourages anyone out there with the creative streak in them, no matter how big or small to keep living the best version of themselves that they possibly can.  The importance of holding on to that spark of passion and creativity when you have some genuine to say is just so vital to our very existences, and both Cooper and Gaga have screamed that from the mountain top with what they’ve said in this somewhat flawed but electrically passionate film.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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