From the beginning, I was skeptical about the newest remake of “A Star Is Born,” especially since I recently watched the 1954 version with Judy Garland and was less than impressed with this tedious musical epic about fleeting fame. I was especially dubious after learning that this would be Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, while directing himself and Lady Gaga in a tale that’s been told three separate times by Hollywood and is as old as the film industry. But with all the praise heaped onto this movie, especially Lady Gaga’s performance, I went into this movie wanting to like it, with the hope that would live up to these expectations.
In the end, my expectations were met and nothing more. I got exactly the movie I thought I’d get, a tale about the music industry with the highest highs and lowest lows, held together with a captivating performance from Lady Gaga that deserves every bit of praise she’s getting. The film follows many of the same beats as the 1954 film, though thankfully with better pacing and a much shorter runtime. It does feel like far more is accomplished in this film than any other “A Star Is Born,” despite being shorter than the 1954 and 1976 versions.
In this version, Bradley Cooper plays a hard-drinking country musician passed his prime who stumbles across a struggling young singer (Lady Gaga) and falls for her and her stunning voice. The two hit it off and he invites her to join in his concerts, to which everyone loves and she very quickly climbs the ladder of success, even leaving Cooper in the dust.
I would say that “A Star Is Born” is a vehicle to launch Lady Gaga’s success into a new medium, but it does feel like the film is trying to say more than that. While her unique style and flare are all over this movie, Coopers’ character and performance keep the film grounded in reality enough to remind us that these people don’t choose a life of fame for wealth or accolades, but because they have something to say and that nothing reaches more people quite like music. The film doesn’t dwell on the clichés of staying true to yourself in the face of the industry or fame corrupting people, and instead goes for a pure message about why musicians do what they do.
That being said, many aspects of “A Star Is Born” come across as awkward or needed more fine-tuning. For example, the supporting cast is all over the place, with Anthony Ramos and Sam Elliott’s motivation getting muddy, while Dave Chappelle comes across as not knowing what he’s doing there. The cinematography is skewed at times, especially when several shots are from a fisheye lens. But the biggest complaint is that Lady Gaga’s jump from a nobody that got turned down because of her large nose to a big sensation is barely covered, going from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye. These complaints don’t ruin the movie, but they do stack up after a while.
Overall, the newest “A Star Is Born” is a fine tragic musical with a great performance from Lady Gaga. It fixes the pacing problems of the Judy Garland version while staying true to the message of musicians in today’s industry. If you’ve seen any of the other three versions of this movie, this one doesn’t play out much differently than those. But for adapting a tale that’s been around since the 1930s, and is often forgotten, to modern society, Bradley Cooper does a fine job bringing enough flare and relevance to a very old story.
Final Grade: B-