A Star is Born, opening Friday, Oct. 5 ★★½
The new remake of A Star Is Born, starring pop star Lady Gaga and directed by movie star Bradley Cooper, has been hotly anticipated to be either a modern classic or a mega-bomb of rehashed camp. The big disappointment is that it’s neither. Cooper’s directorial debut has moments of tremendous heart but is ultimately too uneven and bloated to make it a must-see.
The film follows the relationship of Jackson (Cooper), an aging alcoholic country star, and Ally (Gaga), a waitress and aspiring pop singer, from their fortuitous first meeting and on through their relationship’s calamitous arc. Cooper and Gaga, a counterintuitive screen couple, sparkle in their screen chemistry, and the star-crossed ecstasy and difficulty of their bond is the glue that tenuously holds the film together.
But A Star Is Born is pulled between too many different things at once: gritty kinetic realism, slick and slightly corny music video, women’s melodrama, and, occasionally, even men’s melodrama, as when Jackson confronts his estranged brother, who is played by Sam Elliott with a vague air of cowboy parody. But these threads never come together into a coherent tone that feels naturally contained within a single movie. Instead, over a distended two hours and fifteen minutes, we careen from one visual style and pace to the next.
Cooper has suggested in interviews that what drew him to the film was its potential to critique the fame-industrial complex, but the roulette quality of its style dilutes any possible critique. When Ally reaches peak fame, her face plastered across Los Angeles billboards, Jackson warns her to reclaim control of her image before she loses herself. The irony is that Ally remains emotionally grounded and self-possessed, so that the drama becomes a one-sided battle against Jackson’s will to destroy himself with manly devices like alcoholism. This just reinforces the notion that fame is perfectly fine as long as you can act like a professional and handle it.
Cooper’s film is mainly based not on the 1937 original, but on the campy 1976 remake with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, which was highly uneven but gained a cult following among Streisand fans. Likewise, the confusion of the latest version seems to stem in part from the studio’s apparent indecision over whether the film could stand on its own or had to bank on Gaga fans. It’s most enjoyable when it’s allowed to be what it actually wants to be, a tender country-western love story.