A Star Is Born is an example of top-flight romantic escapism when the studio system and artists come together to meet in the middle. It is not a perfect film, but it doesn’t have to be. It does what it sets out to do; Cooper’s directorial debut will make you smile, have you laughing, and maybe even have you shed a tear.
Jackson Maine doesn’t care where he drinks, as long as the bar is open, and the alcohol is flowing. We can’t tell yet if Jackson is a country music star who is just accepting of these men dressing in drag, or he needs a drink so badly he doesn’t care if he is photographed where images can be spun on social media and interpreted in multiple ways that could be damaging to his career (a man near the bar suggests this might not be his type of place). The best guess is that he is both accepting and most likely a (gentlemanly) alcoholic. This leads to a chance encounter that leads to a star being randomly born in an after-hours all-night supermarket parking lot with a bag of frozen peas bandaged to her left hand.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a weathered musician whose body is breaking down and his career is beginning its final descent. The girl whose hand he is bandaging with frozen vegetables is Ally (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga) a woman he met singing at a drag queen club and whose hand has swelled to twice its size when she defended him by punching a badgering fan. His face is always red, puffy, and has a leathery quality from years of hard drinking. He speaks with a deep, almost smoker’s voice like he has been chewing on stones. He loves the shape of Ally’s nose, so much so, he reaches out to touch it within a couple minutes of talking to her. I’m not sure if there has been a sexier nose touching scene, or any nose touching scene for that matter, filmed with this type of significance. When Lady Gaga’s Ally sings La Vie en Rose she commands a presence and confidence that was always there in the real world but now is being presented in an extraordinary way. Like Barbara Streisand over 40 years before her, she redefines what beauty is.
Jackson Maine’s onstage presence is an exercise of random, off-the-cuff, jukebox selectiveness. He spontaneously pulls Ally onstage to sing a song they came up with in that 24-hour supermarket. Earlier in the film, Jackson tells Ally that everyone has talent, but to make people listen is a whole different bag. The build-up from meeting Ally in that bar to being on-stage now while delivering a knockout performance of the song Shallow makes the hair on your arm stand-up. Not for the fact that Ally is talented, but Cooper’s direction captures the star power that wasn’t there until that very moment. He quite literally created a star right then and there that people want to listen too.
A Star Is Born has some wonderful performances in it, and some of its best scenes come from interactions between supporting characters. The frequent laughs of comic relief come from Ally’s father Lorenzo (played by Andrew Dice Daly, an inspired piece of casting) and some of its most moving interactions are between Jackson and his brother Bobby (the brilliant Sam Elliott, tall and wiry as ever). Life happens in those in-between moments and some of the film’s best scenes are a result of them.
A Star Is Born is by no means a perfect film. We don’t get an in-depth look of Jackson’s demons, only some brief pointed comments without knowing the source of the feelings he is trying to push aside. Unlike the film Blaze, where you get a true sense of why songs were written for an overwhelmingly intimate feel, the songs performed in A Star is Born barely scratch the surface. They come across with a candy-coated feel with no real centre other than to entertain rather than enlighten. Their romance is often whirlwind, even beckoning a sense of television’s The Bachelor. It starts quick, suddenly, and swiftly as the couple fly around to various locations and perform in front of live audiences. Their romance offers very little of any grounded sense of reality; how they would interact in the real world. Then again, how many grounded experiences and relationships do these type of true stars have after their uber successes?
The quality here is evident, with stunning cinematography, crisp sound editing, and the absorbing song choices. From the beginning, you get that sense of an authentic concert feel, (Cooper filmed the opening scene during a live concert at Coachella) which other films depicting musical performances never achieve (films like Crazy Horse for example), and that sets the tone for the film. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is evident, and their performances are super-charged and never on auto-pilot. Cooper is stunning as a worn out substance abuser who has seen better days. Gaga is a revelation; anyone having doubts about her ability to carry a film should put those thoughts to rest. It was a role she was born to play.
A Star Is Born is an example of top-flight romantic escapism when the studio system and artists come together to meet in the middle. Very rarely does a trailer live up to the hype and deliver an experience as satisfying as this picture. It is not a perfect film, but it doesn’t have to be. It does what it sets out to do; Cooper’s directorial debut is engaging, it will make you smile, have you laughing, and maybe even have you shed a tear.
If not that, at least it offers a teachable moment on alternative use of a cowboy boot. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.