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Review: A Star is (re) Born

This piece was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad. The movie was first screened at TIFF but he hopes to see it many times. 

Overnight success is a myth. Great artistic success in show business generally comes from working hard and learning the craft, often for years, so that you're ready should a big break ever come. 'Overnight'  is only just that moment when the world suddenly notices your long-standing gifts. A Star is Born as a franchise always synthesizes this myth and this truth for something like a fairy/cautionary tale; just as quickly as a star rises, a star can fall. Talent is never the question, but the starting point; whether the world notices and for how long, is out of your hands. The screenplay for the latest telling of A Star is Born, emphasizes this last point, as Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) urges Ally (Lady Gaga) to give it her all because the world might not always be listening. 

For those who've been living under a cultural rock the story of A Star is Born is ancient and simple: One already established successful showbiz man 'discovers' an absurdly gifted but basically unknown female performer and takes her under his wing. They fall in love but as her fame rises, his falls, plagued as he is by personal demons in liquid form. The story never has a happy ending so if you need a good cry, queue up...

It's easy to see why this enduring showbiz tearjerker attracts star performers who know a thing or two about life in the spotlight (Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, James Mason, Fredric March, etc...) though its appeal to filmmakers is perhaps a bit less obvious.

Enter Bradley Cooper, famous actor and now an overnight success as a director...

Cooper's clearly been honing the storytelling side of his gifts for years on the sly. Perhaps he was purposefully hovering, soaking up the magic of multitudinous decision-making on the sets of the gifted directors he's been fortunate to work with: Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), David O. Russell (American Hustle), and Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines) chief among them. There's little other explanation possible as to how Cooper so confidentally dons this new hat, born anew as a director behind the camera while simultaneously giving the performance of his career as a movie star in front of it.

Though it would be silly to say that Cooper is unrecognizable as Jackson Maine, his voice at least is totally new -- to his vocal chords that is. Like a more benevolent Ursula, he's magically stolen the voice of Sam Elliott while letting Sam Elliott keep those molasses-gravel pipes, too. In effect there are two Sam Elliott's before you since Elliott is on hand (and terrific) as Jackson's older brother who raised this rock star and now manages him on the road. It's a full time job given the infinite booze. Aside from the new speaking voice, Cooper has thoroughly recalibrated himself physically and emotionally never feeling anything less than authentic as a casually mega famous but frequently sozzled rock star. 

Cooper's iteration of this old story is the first time an actor has directed the material and it shows. Arguably more than the other versions --even the magnificent Judy Garland classic from 1954 --  this one conjures up a romance that's deeply rooted in the spirit of artistic collaboration. This Star is not just concerned with the yin and yang of fresh and dimmed spotlights but in the act of creation. 

Cooper's smart performance-focused read on the material and his generosity as an actor is obviously a huge boon to Lady Gaga as his discovery "Ally". Gaga is still a novice actor rather than a true natural but paired with Cooper she's relaxed and expressive and moving.  It helps of course that the role is tailored to the superstar in an almost comically meta way. She's even cheered on by a gaggle of gays in her first big scene, then symbolically released from the gay community into the real world via Jackson Maine accidentally stumbling into a drag bar on the hunt for more booze. But this role tailoring has always been the case with A Star is Born, which lives or dies by the gifts of its female Star, the one being Born. 

Lady Gaga knows what a once-in-a-lifetime gift this role is and she's taking no chances delivering some of the best songs of her career. Lady Gaga came to slay so that "Ally" could be Born This Way.

If either Cooper or Gaga had any doubts about their ability to pull this off you'd never know it from what's onscreen, the movie operating at all times from an electric place of total confidence, even when the subject of the scenes is the lack of it. For Gaga's part she walks this highwire with no safety net. Within the first reel of her performance she's directly inviting comparisons to major legends. The first time she sings, under the title card no less, it's the seldom sung intro verse to Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" which she then chases with a full performance of Edith Piaf's signature song "La Vie En Rose." Once she's risked communing with those formidable ghosts, she's talking about her nose in profile in a way that would make Barbra Streisand blush. This is a fearless performance demanding your fealty. All you can say in you seat is "yaaaas queen!" when she finally lets loose with "Shallow".

I'm off the deep end
Watch as I dive in
I'll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface
Where they can't hurt us
We're far from the shallow now

The song is thrilling and so is the movie. Watch as these two great artists dive in. Oh, the treasures they dig up together. Once the movie lifts off (with this very song) it never meets the ground again.

An embarrassment of riches, A Star is Born delivers this moment earlier than you'd think. Before the already iconic moment when Ally blows the roof off of a Jackson Maine stadium concert with her hhaaawwwooahaaahahwoaha caterwauling -- the centerpiece of the ubiquitous promotional campaign -- we're treated to a verse of the song in the humblest of ways. Ally sings a bar for Jackson in a parking lot as they talk the night away. The scene is quiet, long, and watchful, as fascinated with this nascent romance as Jackson is with this singular new woman he can't stop staring at. The new tune is presented casually as the seed of an idea Ally has been tending to. It suddenly blooms in Jackson's presence, one artist inspired by another. A song, a romance, and a new classic movie born right before your eyes. 

Grade: A/A-
Oscar Buzz: A threat across the board, and possibly for multiple wins. You can at least consider 6 nominations locked up right now: Picture, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, and Original Song.

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Reader Comments (61)

The first hour is brilliant but then movie stumbles right after she dyes her hair.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Completely echoed all of my thoughts on the movie.

Bradley Cooper used the structure and mythos around the original iterations to create a version that feels fresh, new and also one with the previous interpretations. Gaga's role is tailor fit and she knocks it out of the park.

One of the best things about this iteration was the relationship between Cooper and Sam Elliott. Elliott weaves between care, resentment and concern in ways that are complex and mesmerizing. He manages to be both a father and brotherly figure in interesting ways.

Overall, "Star is Born" met my sky high hopes.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChris James

So Sean Penn was telling the truth?? Well damn.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Am I nuts but wasnt the plot for the Artist very similar?

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

When I was a teen I wrote a synopsis of a lesbian A Star is Born to be starred by Madonna and Britney Spears.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Am I the only one who was expecting more songs? I guess they were going for a My Man/Maybe This Time type of finale but the song is very Diane Warren (boring) and the final shot is terrible. Also, I would totally cut the SNL scene.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I am over the relentless hype for this movie. I will applaud when Bradley comes out of the closet.

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJF

Well, The Artist took a page out of A Star is Born (the previous iterations), yes. I remember critics noting that at the time (of The Artist's release).

Have tickets to see this tomorrow and can't wait!! Really need a good movie to take my mind off what's going on in the real world...

October 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Has anyone seen this hilarious clip of Gaga repeating herself in every interview? I’m dying.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

She's a megastar now,I'm tired of the poor little me story of hers.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

If this movie deserves Oscars for acting then I guess I know nothing

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDaya

It's "where they can't hurt us", not "hide us".

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

One of those movies where the hype is so big I feel no need to see it until dvd and when I do I will not understand what in the world was such a big deal?

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Saw it twice. Really liked it the first time. LOVED it the second time. I wonder how many nominations Cooper will receive? Picture, Actor, Director are locks. Screenplay seems likely. If Maybe It's Time is submitted as the second song choice that seems likely as well. That's 5. Wow. As for Gaga she is a threat to win IF nominated. She was wonderful. Best Actress is so insanely competitive this year that no one is a lock. But she is winning Best Song for Shallow.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

The appeal of Bradley Cooper has always escaped me so I'm wary of this movie. He was the worst thing about that total train wreck of a movie - American Hustle and I would hate to sit through another performance like that. The only reason I would have to see it is because it is likely to be a major Oscar threat and I like to see the films. As of now, on the fence about seeing it.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterReady

Saw it twice. Really liked it the first time. LOVED it the second time. I wonder how many nominations Cooper will receive? Picture, Actor, Director are locks. Screenplay seems likely. If Maybe It's Time is submitted as the second song choice that seems likely as well. That's 5. Wow. As for Gaga she is a threat to win IF nominated. She was wonderful. Best Actress is so insanely competitive this year that no one is a lock. But she is winning Best Song for Shallow.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

The story really is and has always been about Jack/John/Norman, and they rightfully tell this version that way. The Barbra version is sooooo long and kind of insufferable. The Judy version is too stilted (probably from over-cutting). In this one, it is all about Cooper front and center. And he is capital A acting. And he does seem to only have 2 shots - a super close up and a longer still shot. But ... the movie worked for me. I appreciate that Cooper made it basically a concert movie.
The performance scenes are the best. Also, Gaga is great as a performer, and who knows if she is a good actress, but this role isn't a particular great. The character is acted upon, and doesn't really have independent actions. So, making the movie more of a concert movie is really kind of genius. And the music is good.

Whoever said that the movie goes off the rails with Gaga's hair ... kinda true. I get that they are trying to show the contrasting nature of the two characters - they aren't in sync anymore. But it was too jarring.

I am sure there will be 15 movies that come out later in the season that will nudge ASIB out of contention for a lot of things. But if Gaga gets nominated, I think it will be a slap in the face to some of the real actresses with real roles vying for a nod.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

It sounds promising and I plan on seeing it though it has a long way to go to ever measure up to the Judy version but I'm hoping it at least eclipses the Babs one. That's not a high bar since it was a huge misfire.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Just returned from the movie theatre and I can say I loved "A Star is Born"!

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I'm so looking forward to seeing it this afternoon.

I keep seeing that Lady Gaga, who attended the musical theatre program at Tisch and trained at the Strasberg Institute, is not a "real actress." Is Yalitza Aparicio a "real actress"? Was Anna Paquin a "real actress" when she was in The Piano? Was Oprah a "real actress" when she was in The Color Purple?

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I felt the same as Peggy Sue: loved the first half, and then it suddenly stopped working for me when she dyed her hair and became 'famous'. The last hour felt like three to me.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I haven't chipped my two cents in on the "Who's going to win Best Actress?" conversations on here, but it seems like some are severely downplaying Lady Gaga's odds just because they aren't fans. She's hit or miss for me, but I think she is very talented and has done some great things, and I am looking forward to seeing ASIB.

To be blunt--I think that she seems like an absolute lock for a nomination, more than any other actress. And based on everything that we have heard, I think she stands an excellent chance of winning. Yes, it's a tough race this year ... but a lot of the actresses vying for a nomination are in these boutique-y films and/or have already won. I don't mean to sound harsh, but Glenn Close getting a nomination and winning probably means a lot more to people that post on this board than it does to people who are actually voting. More people will probably see A Star is Born in one weekend than will see The Wife in its entire theatrical run. People actually SEEING a movie matters (see: Annette Bening losing for Being Julia, Bullock winning for The Blind Side). Viola Davis, Nicole Kidman, Emma Stone, Julia Roberts, and Natalie Portman are all awesome and super talented, but those actress have all already won and most of their films probably won't be hits. Melissa McCarthy is also a wonderful talent, but it looks like a small film and and she's hardly "overdue." A nomination for her might be a great opportunity for her to start getting offered a wider range of roles, which would be nice to see. Colman sounds spectacular, but people aren't that familiar with her here and are that many people actually even going to see that movie?

Really, this seems like Gaga's to lose. The film promises to be a smash, the hype is deafening, the reviews are great, she's a big star.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I thought this movie was bad. I’ll give more thoughts later in the season when more people have gotten a chance to see it.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Looking forward to seeing this on Monday.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Performances were fine, but I guess I just didn’t connect with it. I thought something was missing . First half was better but the second half dragged.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Cooper is so terrific in this. I really hope he beats Bale, who has me worried with make up that reminds me of last year's winner. Surely Cooper gets extra credit for directing the film as well.

Nods: Picture, maybe Director (tough get), Actor, most likely Actress, Supporting Actor, Screenplay (again!), two in Song, Sound Mixing, possible Cinematography. That's 10. Less likely shot in Costumes too.

The opinions on Gaga are interesting - some are sure she's winning, some not even sure she's getting in. I think a nod but not a win. Elliott would win in another year but Chalamet is absolutely incredible, so I assume he's winning. Ali would be a threat too, if he hadn't won so recently. Competitive year!

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I thought Cooper and Gaga were just superb. The film peaked with the Shallows performance, which gave me shivers, but then it all just unravelled a bit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
5 star performances.
3 star movie.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJB

While I'm certain she'll be nominated, I don't get Gaga's praise here at all. Her Ally felt like an unknowable vessel, and considering how good Cooper is here, there were scenes where I was uncomfortable because her line readings felt stilted by comparison (specifically the bathtub scene). Overall I agree with most people that the first half was better than the second, but don't really get the big deal here-there's nothing new compared to the previous iterations, and I wish that Cooper & Gaga had just recorded "Shallows" as a duet and he'd given this great performance in a better, more original, picture.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Don't knock the Babs version, people! It gave us Evergreen which is like listening to angels.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy

I saw it and I agree it is a good showcase for Lady Gaga, who is an exceptional singer and an excellent performer.

I’d read the comments that the first half was the best half. Watching the first half, I thought, omg, it goes downhill from HERE?

I’d class it with the Streisand/ Kristofferson version, both products of their specific era. My guess is that this version will date just as much.

I admit that I’ve never seen the appeal of Bradley Cooper. For me, every other character and actor in this movie was more interesting than him. And I found the direction to be shapeless, shambling, endless.

If other people love the movie, go ahead, enjoy it. Gaga is impressive. But I’ll never understand the need to fawn over yet another middling, average, white male.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Very anxious to see the 2018 version of ASIB. Congrats to Lady GaGa and Bradley Cooper, they are getting great reviews. The film should be a hit and a big money maker.

I love the 30's version with Janet Gaynor and of course Judy's version has greatness.

Mixed feelings about Barbra's version. Her musical number are electrifying and Kristofferson is very good but as a whole it doesn't quite work. It really was huge when it came out and gave Barbra a new and youthful audience. I remember all of that quite well in 1976/77 The soundtrack was a massive best seller.

I wonder if Barbra can be objective looking back at her film today. Would she see some of the faults and admit them? Needless to say it was the first film that she had so much input on and she had final cut on. She matured as a filmmaker and her direction on Yentl was truly quite exceptional.

In the final tally it looks like all the female leads of ASIB will have been nominated except Streisand. But she does have that lovely "Evergreen" Oscar for Best Song.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGay Senior

Loved the first half but I'd have to agree it largely loses its mojo in the second. Gaga, however, is a legit revelation as an actress, even more convincing than Cooper.

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Gaga is beatable until she's not. Televised precursors dictate everything.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

It’s starting to feel like A Star Is Born is this year’s Three Billboards, a movie critics all wanted to love and hyped to no end, but when it opened to bigger audiences was very divisive for reasons many critics did not see coming.

I love Gaga and the music here is incredible, but she does not do a good job at grounding her character or making her seem like a real person, and some of her bigger dramatic moments (bathtub scene!) did not land. The movie would have worked a lot more if she infused some sort of consistent personality (or any personality) into Ally. The writing shares some of the blame, though, because the script seems to want to change who Ally is every single scene.

Bradley is phenomenal, I hope he wins Best Actor, but that ending was problematic for so many reasons that I’m sure will be discussed a lot more throughout the season. And the entire back half was just horrendous. You would think a movie starring Lady frickin Gaga wouldn’t be so minimizing of pop music/pop artistry. And there are some mindboggling decisions that cheapened the movie, like the scene with the billboard, the entire villain arc (using an actor with a foreign accent of course!), the awkward celebrity cameos, etc.

But my biggest issue is that the whole thing felt like a horror movie. There was an overwhelming sense of dread in every single scene, every line delivery, even in the musical moments. Like waiting for the jump scare and the monster to jump out. I get the intention (the weight and cost of depression/addiction), but my god, it made for an absolute nightmare to watch.

Very diappointed because I really wanted to love this, and I’m happy for those who did love it. But it did give us “Shallow,” which is a masterpiece.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

From the little I’ve seen Gaga is giving what most said of Jhud: Trancendent musical numbers, wooden acting. Hope i’m Wrong.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBeatrice

@Steve I agree there was a sense of dread throughout and it didn’t help that there were only 2 other people with me in the theater. I don’t think this movie will age well at all.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

I'll never pay attention to Gay twitter again.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAramis

The first 45 or so minutes felt really fresh and energetic; however the film runs out of steam when Ally becomes a star. From there, the movie becomes rather uneven and drags. And I gotta say — that final song was SUCH a letdown. It felt like a throwaway American Idol ballad and I felt Gaga really struggled to convey her emotions. Which stinks because that was the one good moment in the crappy Babs version.

I’d give it a B+ because there are times when it’s a classic Hollywood movie. But I think this also fell victim to another festival vacuum / bubble.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

Beatrice -- you're wrong :) Not that I think she's nomination worthy but it's a really good performance.

Nikki -- do you mind if i ask what state you live in ? lThe movie had great box office this weekend so it's weird to hear that your theater was empty.

Everyone -- damn, y'all are hard to please. This movie is electric.

October 7, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@ Nat, I live in Chicago , I’m sure it will do well at the box office. It’s just the theatre I went to, movies like that are often almost empty there. If I would’ve went downtown it would’ve been packed!

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

I went to see Blade Runner there too, there were only like 10 people there. If it’s horror, kids , superhero movie or action film it’s packed. There was also a big storm Saturday Morning, so that may have also contributed to the almost empty theater.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Peggy Sue gave the best comment. She should have been comment of the jour.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAramis

@ Nathaniel and Nicki, my theater was packed, which I was thrilled about despite not liking the movie myself. And I didn’t mention him in my above comment, but Sam Elliott gives the performance of his career. That confrontation scene was the best in the whole movie. Shower him with awards.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Nat - I agree with JJM and wonder if some of these comments are a consequence of overinvestment in the Best Actress race and the Glenn Close Oscar win narrative. A Star Is Born looks like a cultural phenomenon at this point and, as improbable as it once seemed, Lady Gaga could actually win Best Actress. (BTW the best lead actress performance I've seen this year is from Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade, I wish she had a chance at a nod.)

I went to the theater with extremely high expectations and, honestly, doubted the movie could meet them - but it did. It was great. Cooper, Gaga and Elliott were all fantastic. I am puzzled by the idea that the second half isn't as good as the first half; it didn't lose steam at all. And it does have the best soundtrack in years.

I'm going to see it again. I don't think I've seen a movie twice in a theater since The Grand Budapest Hotel. That doesn't mean it's my favorite movie in all those years, but it does mean that it's that enjoyable and I need it right now. A lot of people will need it right now.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Sam Elliott is efficient but his character is rushed in and out of the movie (multiple cuts?) and the evil manager is such a cliché.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine Ross

Madonna was waaaaaaaay better in Evita and the role was more demanding

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

The problem with this movie is definitely the hype. By November there will be backlash and articles about how overrated it is. I mean there are other films with better reviews, but there is no hype i.e. Roma, The Favourite.. ASIB it's a masterpiece, it's magical, it will change movies forever. It was never going to live up to that hype for some, myself included. The movie was electric in the first half, but I have to echoes others it goes downhill during the second half. Cooper was terrific, Gaga was fine, but I felt her role was underwritten. Like what type of star did Ally want to be did she really like the music? Her rise to stardom felt rushed. There was nothing magical or transformative about the film that film twitter or reviews describe. That last song was cringe worthy.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Longtime lurker, first time poster. Wouldn't this be a perfect Oscar winner to (temporarily) fix Oscar's relevancy problem? Critically acclaimed enough, will be hugely popular with audiences, and if Cooper and/or Gaga seem like likely winners they will bring plenty of eyeballs to TV sets. I've not seen the other films, but The Favorite or Roma winning BP or The Wife or whatever winning Actress isn't going to boost ratings.

Also, I loved the film, Cooper was magnificent.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterStephenM


I need to see it again. I felt the same way as a few of you here - loved the first part but didn't love it when Ally became a star.

For me, I think this was for two reasons. I love musicals and the music wasn't that musical - and I hated her career. But were we supposed to hate her career? Bradley Cooper's character didn't like it. The SNL part was terrible - the lyric said something like "texting me with your ass in those jeans". And then she won the Grammy and I was like - WHY????

In the finale song (which I didn't love either), her hair was back to its regular colour. So did that mean she went back to her more "authentic" self as opposed to the pop machine factory.

If that's the case - then I can be ok with the second half of the film. It wasn't the star I wanted her to be so it was tragic he was wasting his talent through booze and she was wasting hers through the pop machine factory even with the acclaim.

I have to watch again.

I did really like the film. I loved Cooper in it and would love if Cooper won Best Actor and Shallow won song unless I become obsessed with Boy Erased or Mary Poppins numbers.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I was prepared to hate it/be underwhelmed by a it and, much to my surprise, it engaged me and move me in ways I was so not expecting. It is not a perfect film by any means, and, as many has pointed out, it loses some steam towards the ending, but it definitely has some genius moments.

The biggest revelation for me was Cooper's talents as a director. He could have phoned it in and go safe given the academic (dare I say outdated?) nature of the story but he sure makes some ballsy choices throughout the movie with extreme gusto and nuance (not in a show off manner)

Gaga's acting is, in fact, more a testament of Cooper abilities than her owns. She does what her part demands but I feel the film (and her character) would have benefited from a more gifted actress (her gifts as a singer are completely out of question)

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

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