A Star is Born is a triumph for first-time director Bradley Cooper. However, once the novelty of the first-time successes of Cooper and Gaga wears off, it is apparent that the story is lacking in substance and doesn’t quite live up to the premise’s promise.
A Star is Born is one of those rare productions where the real-life circumstances going into the film’s creation perfectly mirror the story that is being told. The film is full of first-time achievements making it the sort of tale you are inclined to root for. Despite being the fourth remake of the story and being cautioned by Pearl Jam’s lead vocalist Eddie Vedder that this was a bad idea, Bradley Cooper has made his directorial debut to more fanfare than could possibly be expected.
Prior to the film’s box office smash success, it was already making waves after its world premiere, with many critics claiming the film to be nothing short of a romantic epic for the ages. While the film overall is a triumph for first-time director Cooper, it doesn’t adequately explore the struggles of either of the two lead characters, causing the film to miss the mark.
Much like the other three incarnations of the tale, Cooper’s vision presents another romantic story that begins by introducing us to Jackson Maine (Cooper), a colossally successful country music star. Despite having established an illustrious career for himself, Jack seems unfulfilled and somewhat jaded about the music industry. It quickly becomes evident that despite still functioning as a singer and a performer, Jack is struggling with past demons and dealing with substance abuse as a result.
A chance encounter at a drag bar one night has Jack cross paths with the fiery, street-smart Ally (Lady Gaga). Upon witnessing Ally’s performance, Jack is instantly drawn to her raw singing talent. Gaga, who is obviously extremely recognizable as a mega superstar in real life, is shockingly relatable in the role, as she is remarkably believable as an ordinary woman with big musical dreams.
It isn’t long until the two become better acquainted with one another and Jack realizes that in addition to being a phenomenal singer, Ally is also a gifted songwriter. Despite Ally being immensely talented, she is reluctant to perform her own songs, as she struggles with insecurities related to her appearance and the fear of being rejected. What follows is a love story in which Jack takes it upon himself to help foster Ally’s talent and turn her into a music star, while the two fall increasingly in love with one another.
A Star is Born has the novelty of being surprising to viewers regarding how well first-time attempts at different components of the film work in its favour. Cooper, who is always a tremendous actor, provides great work once again but also reveals that he is a talented vocalist, as many of his songs are standout tracks on the soundtrack.
Lady Gaga, who has already demonstrated her talent as an actress during her award-winning turn on American Horror Story, does very well with her first leading role in a major film. Gaga’s star shines most brightly during the scene where she finally joins Jack on stage to perform to a huge audience for the first time. The shift from uneasy contemplation gradually evolving into a mounting confidence as she is nudged into the spotlight is impressive to behold. The strong acting combined with the relevant lyrics of the song “Shallow” provided a standout moment where the film was most in its element.
The novelty of being surprised at what Cooper and Gaga are capable of disappears as the film enters its second act, however, as, despite both actors turning in ostensible good performances, there is not as much chemistry between the two as the first act indicated. Instead of being a tale about two artists who are drawn to each other due to their burning passion for their craft, A Star is Born comes off as an aspiring singer hitting the jackpot and having opportunities suddenly available to her from dating an influential man. This falls short of the being the romantic epic the film was purporting itself to be (and is surprisingly tone deaf considering the current political climate).
The film also features every trope in the book that you would associate with a love story situated in the context of the music industry. We have the struggle to be authentic, overcoming insecurities associated with your appearance, substance abuse, and tension from comparative success with your significant other. The familiarity of these conflicts is fine, but just as Jack instructs Ally on the eve of a big performance, “If you don’t dig deep in your soul then you don’t have legs.” Apart from the solid first act, A Star is Born never properly delves into these struggles in a profound way. As a result, much of the conflict feels superficial and I didn’t feel emotionally invested in what happened.
I am well aware that the vast majority were head over heels in love with this film. While I can definitely see the film’s merits I maintain that it never quite hits the emotional highs that it is attempting to, thus leading to a mixed positive result. This could very well be an instance where the hype the film has earned made the novelty of being surprised wear off when a viewer eventually gets to see it. Overall though A Star is Born never shines as brightly as one would expect from the components of the story.