I don’t think it’s any great tragedy, but despite the three prior iterations, writer-actor-director-performer Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” is my first venture into this particular story. It didn’t quite matter, everything on screen played out exactly as I would have expected as if I had seen one of the others. That doesn’t mean Born is a particularly bad movie. It’s not. It’s certainly engaging, the music is mostly amazing, except when it’s almost supposed to be bad, and the performances are quite nice. There’s just not a lot of weight to the story despite how hard Cooper tries in every aspect of the film.
And then there’s Lady Gaga. I have to admit, not a big fan, but she’s certainly better than expected, especially at the beginning of the film when her earnest, aggressive and wide-eyed amateur singer Ally first encounters the world-weary traveling alcoholic and sometimes musician Jack (Cooper). As she belts out tunes and Jack and her fall for each other for…reasons, I guess, the film takes off and moves at a pace that’s entirely too fast for the story. It’s hard to get a sense of timing in the film, as Ally seems to quit her job to see Jack play only to be called on stage, belt out a song she just sang for him a few hours before even though the band knows how to play a different version of it and Ally becomes an overnight sensation, performing on SNL, marrying Jack and winning Best New Artist at the Grammy’s without any sense of time passing or Jack and Ally forming a deeper connection. The movie needs them to be in love, so they’re in love, without really showing you how or why. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, I mean the same can be said of West Side Story or that Shakespeare tale it was based on.
The musical performances throughout are some of the best ever put on film. As Jack and Ally play together and separately, in venues small and large, to crowds intimate and massive, it all has a great energy to it. Even the half-finished tunes, like top-five hit “Shallow,” feel fully realized and understandably justify Ally’s skyrocket to fame. But as Ally’s star is on the rise, Jack’s is fading, his dependence on drugs and alcohol grows deeper, and a not-explored-enough medical issue continues to throw him off track, despite the best intentions of his manager/older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott, also Jack and Bobby? Really?).
Cooper’s prowess behind the camera is solid, and his ability to craft memorable performances is also good. Where Born falters is mostly in the completely by-the-numbers approach to the storytelling, and in the editing. It’s an okay ride throughout, always delivering in the moment, but never quite connecting to a deeper theme or emotional core, which makes some of the heavier moments fall a little flat.
My Grade – C+