Let’s get right to the point. Star is Born is my favorite movie of the year. I’m not sure that is going to change, either. Something extraordinary is going on in this movie. If you love movies, you really need to see this.
Despite a familiar storyline, director/actor Bradley Cooper and singer/diva Lady Gaga pump a lot of freshness into what will undoubtedly be a major Oscar contender for all the big awards (Movie, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor).
This is because Cooper, an actor of astonishing range (think The Hangover to American Sniper), can hold his own as a singer/performer next to Lady Gaga. And, conversely, Lady Gaga, arguably the biggest pop star of the last decade, can hold her own as an actor, next to thrice Oscar-nominee Cooper. Who thought that was possible? Not me. I bet you didn’t either.
The movie’s spell that is cast thanks to this switcheroo begins with the very first scene when Cooper starts singing, and sounds, surprise, like a singer. I mean, OMG, not only is Cooper good-looking and charming in a non-egotistical everyman way, but he can really sing!
Then Gaga comes on, and here she is, the diva, warts and all, a hundred feet across on the big screen and she’s utterly riveting. She can act like Jesus plays basketball (very well).
What comes out from the screen is something we don’t often see anymore, genuine star power. A Star is Born is a clinic on how to use star power without drawing attention to itself.
The chemistry is undeniable. The songs, strong. The duets, plausible and done with emotion.
The supporting actors (Sam Elliot, Andrew Clay, Dave Chappelle) are both great and not distracting at all from the leads or the story. And the story? Worn as an old pair of shoes, and just as comfy. Told here told for the fourth time with great fondness and respect.
These actors, with this music, and this cinematography (Matthew Labatique) is a most delicious, and somehow surprisingly artsy combination. Maybe because Cooper the director resists the enormous temptations to go over the top, which he could do many times. Instead, he shows restraint. No camp or kitsch. This retelling of the coming out of undiscovered talent easily could have become a very clichéd, exploitive, mess – but it’s not.
These actors are so natural and right and that the movie and storyline rise above itself and become something more. Do I dare say transcendent? Yes, I do.
Cooper we’ve seen before so not really a surprise here. Heck, he was great in Alias twenty years ago and has only gotten better in everything since.
Gaga is the revelation. I can’t remember being that simultaneously knocked out and smitten by a performer in many years. Purple Rain? I missed her Emmy winning turn on American Horror Story (I bet you did, too).
The best recent analogy I can draw is to when I first heard the Hamilton soundtrack. Listening to it was like seeing an undeniable genius at work. Gaga, in this film, is like that. Always fascinating to look at, unashamed as a singer, and never afraid to let it all hang out even when unflattering. A fearless performance.
Like Hamilton, so much of what elevates the subject to emotional heights, are the great songs introduced for the first time here. Many writers contributed, including, astonishingly, Bradley Cooper (along with Gaga, Lukas Nelson, Mark Ronson, and others). The soundtrack is having a life of its own with some very feisty internet debate over whether these songs are any good or not. They are. Very good, in fact. “Shallow” is number one on iTunes.
You hate musicals? You dislike dark movies with sad endings?
Too bad. If that’s the case, you’ll miss what is most likely this year’s best picture.