A Star is Born is a very impressive debut film for Bradley Cooper as a director; on a technical level, the film’s visual flare and sound mixing are astounding, even more so when it’s done by a debut filmmaker and not someone who’s mastered their craft over years of time. It’s beautifully acted and updates the story for a modern context, and forms an impressive collection of awe-inspiring and moving moments. The only sign here of Cooper’s struggles in transitioning from actor to director is in the editing room; the stuff he’s shot is terrific, but the movie is really, really long.
Musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) struggles with alcoholism when he has a chance encounter with Ally (Lady GaGa), an aspiring musician who’s never had a shot. As a romance blossoms between the two, Jack and Ally create a lively partnership as they tour and perform, but Jack’s addictive personality threatens to derail their careers.
Cooper does some of the best work of his career here; he’s completely believable as a lively performer who struggles with giving into his worst impulses, and he crafts a character that is tragic yet not infallible. Lady GaGa is also tremendous here, and her rise from a mousey waitress to pop sensation is brought to life with her talent as an actor. The pair work well as romantic partners and as a singer/songwriter duo, and their complex feelings about pursuing their own passions in the midst of their personal and professional relationship manages to avoid a lot of cliches.
As for the music, it’s brought to life naturally, and the teasing of certain lyrics are chords build to some truly impressive onscreen musical numbers. The standout is clearly “Shallow,” the first duet that Cooper and GaGa have together, and the result of their combined talent onscreen is a jaw dropping, tear jerking cinematic moment. The entire soundtrack is filled with terrific songs, and the final track “I’ll Never Love Again” in particular is the perfect melancholy sendoff for the film.
The only real issue is that at 135 minutes, the film feels quite long, and while the first half is a nearly perfect portrait of a rise to stardom, the second half often drags as the characters’ journey gets darker. Many scenes are thematically repetitive and while many the integral character development remains intact, it definitely feels like footage that is suited more for an extended cut. The end of A Star is Born is one of the most powerful things I’ve seen this year, it’s just the journey to get there that is at some points inconsistent. Grade: B+