DEVIN MEENAN — More often than not, a filmmaker’s debut feature will have a rough-around-the-edges quality to it; lack of experience makes this almost inevitable. There are exceptions to the rule, of course; recent impressive debuts that spring to mind include Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and last year, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born joined them.
A Star Is Born was screened by the Denison Film Society last weekend, just ahead of the 91st Oscars where the film was nominated for eight different awards. This is the third remake of the 1937 original A Star is Born (which starred Janet Gaynor & Fredric March). Next was the first remake, and arguably most well-regarded version, released in 1954 (starring Judy Garland & James Mason), and then another in 1976 (Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson).
Sharing common story beats with the previous iterations, but taking a page from the 1976 version through its setting of the music industry versus Hollywood, the 2018 A Star Is Born features Jackson Maine (Cooper, echoing Kristofferson), a country-rock star with substance abuse issues who discovers Ally Campana (Lady Gaga) singing in a bar then helps her launch as a professional singer. From there, the film chronicles their relationship as Jackson’s career declines and Ally’s ascends.
To start things off, both Cooper and Gaga shine in their respective roles, and their scenes together are downright electric; the chemistry between the pair does wonders in selling the relationship between Jackson and Ally.
Cooper also does a commendable job with the film’s musical scenes, given his lack of singing experience, though it goes without saying that Gaga excels in her singing role even greater. The music of the film, in general, is well composed and often memorable; it’s a relief they pulled that off considering how core to the film the music is.
Speaking of which, one of the greatest strengths of Cooper’s direction is how, through a combination of the lighting, camera–work, and especially sound design, he manages to evoke the feeling of a concert during the not insubstantial number of scenes that take place at one. He also demonstrates a talent for framing; early scenes of Ally singing depict her through close-ups that are not quite leering so much as adoring, ensuring the audience becomes just as infatuated with her as Jackson does.
This isn’t to say the film is perfect, however; it peaks too early, with the scene of Jackson and Ally singing “The Shallow,” happening a mere 40 minutes into the over 2-hour runtime. Still, there are certainly less impressive debuts out there, and this film piques interest for Cooper’s next directorial project.