LOADING ...

Lady Gaga is as great as you’ve heard, even if the rest of A Star Is Born isn’t

A.A. Dowd Sep 13, 2018. 19 comments

There’s one truly great, chills-inducing scene in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, the latest Hollywood remake of A Star Is Born (Grade: B). It’s the moment when all the pent-up crowdpleasing catharsis the movie has been withholding under its ramshackle, dive-bar minimalism comes erupting out of it like a geyser of feeling, and I confess to getting the exact shiver of pleasure the movie is aiming to provoke. Ally (Lady Gaga), an aspiring singer-songwriter who generally only performs on open-mic night at her local drag bar, is standing just offstage as Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), the country-leaning rock star she met the night before, performs a song she wrote. He’s asked for her to join him under the spotlight, and though she’s flatly refused out of pure stage fright (there are, after all, thousands of screaming fans out there watching), a flush of courage builds up in her as she witnesses him croon her words. So, steeling her nerves, she walks briskly into the light, just in time for the soul-baring chorus. The crowd, of course, loves her instantly. We do, too.

It would take colossal incompetence to not get a little rousing power out of the star-is-born moment of A Star Is Born. But Cooper, a far more talented image-maker than all of us assumed he’d be, doesn’t just rest on the cornball hook of seeing Ally grab her destiny by the mic stand, or even on the fact that the song itself, “Shallow,” turns out to be a sublime earworm ballad. No, what elevates this centerpiece moment from satisfying to transcendent is the trust Cooper puts in his own star, who turns the whole scene—from the agonizing waiting in the wings to the moment of bravery to the quivering joy she experiences on stage—into an awakening. It’s Gaga’s coming-out party, her own cross-medium coronation, but like his character, Cooper deserves credit for the assist: the way he keeps the camera locked tight on her face through the whole transformative experience, making the emotions running through her head and scrawling themselves across her features the whole show.

That remarkable scene reverberates through the rest of A Star Is Born, like a melody that gets stuck in your head. It may well be the key to the rapturous reception the movie has received since premiering at Venice a couple weeks ago. For maybe an hour or so, I was convinced that maybe Cooper had made the great, soulful Hollywood entertainment some have already called it. This is the fourth version of this story to roll out of the Dream Factory (the 1954 version, with Judy Garland, may be the gold standard), and Cooper, who co-wrote the script with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, doesn’t muck with the formula much, instead just giving it a new coat of cheap-seats, lighter-in-the-air romanticism that’s somewhere near the three-way intersection of Crazy Heart, 8 Mile, and the boho making-a-band musicals of John Carney. What he also gets, crucially, is that this well-trod material, a Cinderella story that crumbles into tragedy, lives or dies on the chemistry between its ingénue and her fading marquee mentor. And Cooper and Gaga have a surplus of that, forging a playful, smoldering connection across the film’s extended, meet-cute of an opening act.

I wish A Star Is Born preserved the laidback, naturalistic vibe of its first half, or that it somehow sustained the stirring high it reaches on stage with Ally and Jackson. All versions of this story reach a certain necessary comedown, as the rise portion of the evening ends and the fall begins. But in Cooper’s film, it really is downhill from “Shallow,” even as the movie depends on us keeping that performance in our hearts and minds. Part of the problem, too, is that this Star Is Born is built on a false and rather tired musical dichotomy, positing Jackson’s generic Americana rock as some kind of inherently worthwhile alternative to pop music—a turn that asks Gaga to knock out a synthetic radio smash much flatter than her own actual pop smashes, and us to buy that a young artist of Ally’s evident integrity would fall in line behind the corny cliché of a British A&R bloodsucker (Rafi Gavron). Still, Gaga keeps the film’s heart pumping. She’s down-to-earth and radiant—in other words, every bit as good as everyone has been saying. The movie isn’t, but the best moments echo loudly.

19 Comments

Other A.A. Dowd's posts

Unfortunately, there's an app for everything in this first look at season 4 of Rick And Morty Unfortunately, there's an app for everything in this first look at season 4 of Rick And Morty

Making a season of Rick And Morty takes time. Like, a lot of it. It takes so much time, in fact, that the show has even explicitly poked fun at the long stretches between seasons, letting a certain little poopy pants cop to the “like, year-and-a-half… or longer” viewers would have to wait to see a finale-ending cliffhanger resolved....

The Paranormal Activity series milks found-footage for all it’s worth The Paranormal Activity series milks found-footage for all it’s worth

With Run The Series, The A.V. Club examines film franchises, studying how they change and evolve with each new installment.No popular variety of movie tends to take more heat from the viewing public than found-footage horror. Of all the reasons people purport to hate these films they still go to see in droves, the most reasonable is the complaint...

10 episodes that lay out the warped ethical calculus of Tales From The Crypt 10 episodes that lay out the warped ethical calculus of Tales From The Crypt

With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD, it gets harder and harder to keep up with new shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. If you watch these 10, you’ll have a better idea of...

L For Leisure is either a bad grad-school comedy or a really dry spoof of one L For Leisure is either a bad grad-school comedy or a really dry spoof of one

Movie ReviewMovie ReviewL For LeisureB-Movie ReviewL For LeisureB-B-L For LeisureDirectorWhitney Horn, Lev KalmanRuntime74 minutesRatingNot RatedCastKeenan Hartsten, Bro Estes, Kyle WilliamsIs L For Leisure just a clumsy Whit Stillman imitation, a bunch of amateur actors trying and failing to satirize pretentious academia? Or is it something stranger entirely—a kind of spoof of that very genre, stilted and artificial on purpose?...

Suggested posts

Judging only from the poster, what was All About Steve about? Judging only from the poster, what was All About Steve about?

Full disclosure: Some of us here have never seen All About Steve. But digging out a memory bank from our dusty annals, we seem to remember a failed rom-com wherein an unfortunately blonde Sandra Bullock stalked a hapless Bradley Cooper. The “film” got the rare “F” from The A.V. Club , with reviewer Nathan Rabin calling Bullock’s performance “a...

Bradley Cooper in talks to re-grizzle himself for Guillermo del Toro's carnival con man movie Bradley Cooper in talks to re-grizzle himself for Guillermo del Toro's carnival con man movie

Suggesting that Bradley Cooper might have formally found a new niche for himself in the world of playing grizzled, alcohol-reliant public performers, Variety reports today that the Star Is Born actor-director is in talks to star in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. Adapted—as was the 1947 version, starring Tyrone Power—from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name, the...

We're just not that into He’s Just Not That Into You We're just not that into He’s Just Not That Into You

When Romance Met ComedyWith When Romance Met Comedy, Caroline Siede examines the history of the rom-com through the years, one happily ever after (or not) at a time.  The opening scene of He’s Just Not That Into You is great. A little girl is minding her own business on the playground when a boy suddenly shoves her and shouts that she’s...

It may be another "Shallow" cover, but Lizzo makes it her own It may be another "Shallow" cover, but Lizzo makes it her own

“Shallow” is probably the song you’ve heard more than any song ever and it’s only been out for six months. The cultural impact it’s had, along with how well it’s now known, is interesting considering it’s not even the best song from the film. Nevertheless, it’s been covered left and right. Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers , for example,...

Jonas Åkerlund on Lords Of Chaos, Beyoncé, and how Lady Gaga inspired him to keep making music videos Jonas Åkerlund on Lords Of Chaos, Beyoncé, and how Lady Gaga inspired him to keep making music videos

Director Jonas Åkerlund has been working in the music video industry for over 30 years, and worked with several prolific artists across various genres, like Madonna, Metallica, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé. Earlier this month, he helmed the feature-length thriller Lords Of Chaos, a dramatized look at the Norwegian black metal scene. We recently sat down with Åkerlund to talk about...

Lady Gaga sinks the Bradley Cooper shippers and shows off her Oscar on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Lady Gaga sinks the Bradley Cooper shippers and shows off her Oscar on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Along with thanks to host Jimmy Kimmel for his recent donation to her Born This Way Foundation, newly minted Oscar winner brought a large, bulging black bag onto the Jimmy Kimmel Live! set on Wednesday. Asked what was in the ominous-looking thing, Gaga rummaged, deadpanning, “Well, it’s been quite a week,” before placing her Oscar for Best Original Song...

Here are (most of) the Best Song nominees performing live at the Oscars  Here are (most of) the Best Song nominees performing live at the Oscars 

Though it wasn’t as thrilling as the drama surrounding its lack of host, the Academy Awards ceremony generated some bonus controversy with the announcement that the only Best Song nominees that would be performed at the Oscars would be “Shallow” from A Star Is Born and “All The Stars” from Black Panther. After everyone got mad that the Academy...

Bradley Cooper won't win a directing Oscar, but his dog is swimming in good boy awards Bradley Cooper won't win a directing Oscar, but his dog is swimming in good boy awards

PETA is obsessed with that dang dog in A Star Is Born , and why the hell shouldn’t it be? It’s Bradley Cooper’s real doggo , after all, one he named after his late father, Charlie, who died in 2011. The animal rights organization previously honored Cooper with a Compassion In Film award for casting his own dog, and...

Here are the winners of the 2019 Grammy Awards  Here are the winners of the 2019 Grammy Awards 

The Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks, and while that show has been saddled with the controversial decision to ask Kevin Hart to host and then the thrilling showbiz drama of Hart dropping out and the Academy struggling (and eventually giving up on) finding anyone to replace him, the Grammys have been facing a difficult situation...

Sean Penn offers up passionate defense of poor, neglected Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper Sean Penn offers up passionate defense of poor, neglected Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper

It’s accepted wisdom that every time Sean Penn writes , a million brain cells somewhere on the planet are forced to off themselves in protest. Still, we all know that Sean only picks up his pen when it’s truly important—when he has a cause to talk about, or a novel to butcher , or a long, rambling trip to hang...

Language