During a pivotal scene in Bradley Cooper's directorial debut A Star Is Born, there is particular striking bit of dialogue: "Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats...All the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes."
The same can be said for a love story: there are only two options--person wins love or person loses love--and the power and variety comes from how its interpreted. Through Cooper's directorial gaze, the fourth A Star Is Born remake is a textured, haunting, albeit dragging film that examines a relationship with a sprawling luxury. Jackson Maine, bourbon-and-leather voiced rock star, uses the dying the light of his star to ignite that of an up-and-coming musician.
What stuck with me even a day after seeing the film is Jackson's emotional brittleness. Despite his rumbling voice, stratospheric alcohol tolerance, guitar-shredding expertise, he is a man not long for his world. He is so traumatized by a sad, isolated childhood and a body that can no longer sustain his musical talent that when he's not on stage or drinking, he's all concealed features, hunched posture and a childlike wonderment that only a few get to see. Maine is an shadowed labyrinth of pain, one that despite a drug abuse problem, is easy to love, root for and one you'll want to want to protect with the ferosity of mother grizzly bear.
And like most of the viewers, Ally falls prey to his armored innocence even as she's triggered by his drinking. It's why I can excuse the fan fiction-esque introduction of our two leads. They find a common ground and an intense love in music.
From then, it's nearly two hours of agony and slight boredom. Because we all know it's going to end messy and tragic, it's just a matter of how and when.
On winter mornings, when the sun is bright in the sky, sometimes, you can still see the a phantom-esque shadow of the moon on the opposite end of the sky. In A Star Is Born, Ally is the sun and Jackson is the moon. They never quite fit together, even their voices are mismatched. Gaga's Ally is creation of the digital age. Her voice has power and finesse. She can write music, dance, and sing. Jackson's is roughshod and cool in a mostly antiquated way. He's not quite a relic, but its a near thing. He's losing his hearing, and the industry is putting him out to pasture even though he's not even 50.
A Star Is Born has its breathtakingly romantic moments, even if the film is about 20 minutes too long. Cooper's direction is deft and intimate, packed with enriching details to the point where it becomes a bit self-indulgent. Gaga and Cooper have an effortless chemistry and it's on display is almost every scene.
Lady Gaga is as fearless of an actress as she is a performer; however being a former Monster, it's hard to divorce the Lady Gaga from Ally, the trajectories of their careers are even very similar. Even stripped of her make-up and meat dresses, Gaga still looks like a star. The audience never questions if she can make it as one because she already has. And I do wonder what the movie would look like if Cooper (who co-wrote, directed, starred in and produced) would've cast a lesser known actress, not a Beyonce or a Gaga, but a Broadway star who most of the world didn't immediately connect with discosticks and Grammys? Would her impressive journey from YouTube sensation to rock star to pop icon have felt like more of a gamble?
From the second Gaga's debut album came out, I just wanted her to sit at a piano and sing, and she does that and more. The bitch can SANG, and that's the most extraordinary part of her performance. Like Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls, the majority of the majesty and goosebumps stem Gaga's performance comes from her exquisite musical talents.
Gaga's Ally incredibly uneven. She's got a wild, impulsive side, punching out a rude patron at a club, and yet she's timid about everything else, including Maine's alcoholism and even her own career. She happily lets herself be led down the Britney Spears alley of pop stardom, even though she has so much more to stay and the pipes in which to say it. Once again, I'm reminded of heroines from fan fiction who were written by 16-year-olds who haven't quite learned what true strength is. It's not random moments of chaotic defiance, but a quiet and sure resolve about what you will withstand and stand for.
A star is definitely born in this film, and ironically, it's Cooper, not Gaga. He gives an effected, nuanced, delicate performance as Maine. He doesn't say much but you can palpably feel his pain and his thoughts. There are brazen close-ups of his hands as he doesn't just play but SHREDS at the guitar. A studio musician plays on the polished soundtrack, but Bradley Cooper put in a grueling 18 months in learning how to talk and sing with a voice lowered a full octave and play the guitar. If anyone deserves an Oscar nomination for their performance, it ain't the Mother Monster.
The coverage of Maine's addiction is too shallow. They tend to skirt around the ugliness of it and gloss over how celebrities can be enabled. Despite the issues I had with the film, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. A Star is Born is an old school love story and hopefully it's merely removing the velvet rope for a flurry of others to stampede into the theater.
What do you think of the movie? Hit up the comments below.