Movie Review : A Star is Born (2018)
A Star is Born had a pop culture moment during movie awards season. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performed the movie’s hit song Shallow for promotional purposes a handful of times and fans lost their shit on social media. The co-stars cultivated an ambiguity in their performances that made people wish they were actually in love. It doesn’t have anything to do with the movie, but it helped A Star is Born to become the most talked about Academy Award nominee of this year’s ceremony. But is the movie actually good? The best answer I can give you is… it’s entertaining?
For the uninitiated, A Star is Born is the third remake of a 1937 movie that doesn’t have anything to do with music. It features a young, struggling singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) who meets famed country artist Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) in a drag bar, where she’s singing La Vie en Rose while pretending to be a man who’s pretending to be a woman. They fall hopelessly in love, he brings her on tour and she seduces his fans because she’s pretty fucking talented herself. But their June and Johnny bliss is interrupted by a greedy record producer (Rafi Gavron) who has plans for Ally.
This movie is so freakin’ strange. It’s not what happens in A Star is Born that is strange, but rather how it happens. Let me explain.
Nobody ever earns anything. Jackson meets the woman of his dreams by literally walking half-drunk into the first bar (also a drag queen bar, where… you know, heterosexual life-affirming moments are rarer). Ally seduces him right away by singing a song in a language Jackson doesn’t understand and while being a quite convincing drag queen. They also write a planet crushing hit with deep and complex lyrics in five minutes, sitting half-drunk in a parking lot. When Jackson takes Ally touring with him, she wins over his fans and even closes his shows, which is some major bullshit. Imagine you pay 100$ to see… let’s say Phil Collins and he lets his wife sing something you don’t know for the encore?
Good writing usually entails that you witness a character’s struggle. It makes you sympathetic to their desires and builds up tension. So, when the characters have a life altering moment, you understand what’s at stake. A Star is Born doesn’t work like that. It goes like: “c’mon, it’s Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. You already love them. Who gives a shit about character development?” And it kind of works? See, it’s a little bit like kayfabe in wrestling. We’re living a romantic fantasy through two familiar faces. Nothing outside of Jackson and Ally’s relationship really matters in A Star is Born, so the movie just gets there as quick as possible.
But A Star is Born is not all silliness. There are things it does genuinely well. For example, its structure eschews the traditional will-they-or-won’t-they desire game that every romantic movie is usually about. It’s one of the rare movies that actually portrays a romantic relationship with ups, downs and all the nuances in between. OK, maybe not “all” the nuances but it has some. Jackson and Ally fight, make up, behave selfishly, support each other through tough times, etc. Hollywood is traditionally useless past the first kiss, so it was cool watching a mainstream movie having a somewhat responsible angle on relationships.
I was wildly entertained by A Star is Born. Not always for the right reasons, but it kept me watching. Perhaps the very best thing this movie has to offer is its music, though. Bradley Cooper even signs a song called Black Eyes in the beginning, which I have… * welp * put in a Spotify playlist? Anyway, it’s a wildly unrealistic, manipulative romantic fantasy, but it’s pretty honest about what it is and what it tries to do. Not sure we’re going to remember it in five years, but it’s not insignificant either. One could argue it was the perfect Oscar nominee for 2019.