In honor of the 91st Annual Academy Awards, we’re taking a look at each of the Best Picture Nominees. Today we look back at A Star is Born.
After years in development, the newest adaptation of A Star Is Born is now in theaters. It is directed by Bradley Cooper and written by Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters. The film stars Cooper as Jackson “Jack” Maine, a rockstar with addiction issues, who discovers and falls in love with the immensely talented Ally, played by Lady Gaga.
The film was in development for years with Clint Eastwood at the helm and major talks with Beyoncé in the lead female role. A few years back, that version of the film fell apart and Bradley Cooper took the helm. Cooper put together an amazing cast led by Lady Gaga, himself, and Sam Elliot as Jack’s brother. The performances are some of the best I’ve seen this year. You truly fall in love with these characters and are sucked into their story immediately. You want to see them all succeed in their goals, to see Jack sober up, and to see Ally become a star–but that doesn’t mean everything’s perfect.
The film opens strong; you easily fall in love with both Jack and Ally. You want to see them succeed and you want to see them live happy lives. The first time that Jack brings Ally on stage at a concert is going to go down as one of the greatest moments in film history. It’s a moment where everything has to be real, or else the rest of the film doesn’t work. If Ally isn’t nervous, excited, intimidated, yet hopeful when she steps up to the microphone, you won’t care about her the rest of the way. If Jack isn’t looking on with hope, excitement, pure joy, and a desire for a better future with her, you don’t care about a single other thing he does because it’s not worth it.
Cooper and Gaga give amazing performances. The arcs for Jack and Ally are fantastic–but they have no chemistry. There’s never a moment where the relationship works, where I’m convinced that they work together. It just feels like two people who found each other and continue on their path together. However, the movie isn’t ruined by this. Their performances and the individual character arcs are strong enough to work without that chemistry, but the film does dip a bit in the second act because of all this. When they truly begin to fall in love and grow as a superstar couple, it never feels like it’s important or that there’s any weight to it. It doesn’t help that this portion of the films goes through the motions of this type of story; she rises to success as he falls more into his addictions.
The film saves itself from the dullness of the second act with a third act that begins to bend some of the tropes to make a compelling final run. Instead of simply playing into what should happen, the film follows along with what the characters would do. This may be one of the biggest strengths in the film’s favor. It’d be easy for the film to rest on its laurels at this point and say, “You know how this ends.” But it takes turns that are true to the character’s we’ve followed these two hours. Both of them are always going to follow some of the lines that are expected of them as they rise to fame, but they are also going to take their own detours when they want to.
In a way, it almost feels like Cooper structured the film to flow like this on purpose. The final scene of the film is one that’s familiar and would play out just as anyone would expect. But Cooper uses a clever bit of editing and adjustment to change up the scene to make it mean more to the characters and the audience, and to remind you that this isn’t just about the story we know, a story that’s been told under this title three times before. This is about these specific characters and how they follow this story and this path.
In the end, that’s what makes the film work and what makes it something worthwhile. If the film was solely about the relationship between Jack and Ally and watching them fall in love, there’s no point. But if it’s about the characters, the actual people beyond the titles, then it’s worthwhile. At the beginning of the film, Ally asks Jack how he deals with everyone constantly trying to take photos of him and acting as if he isn’t even a person–and you feel it just as much as she does. Jack can’t be Jack anymore. He’s “Jackson Maine,” there for everyone’s entertainment, no longer a real person. We see these celebrities and we assume that because they’re famous and make money doing things that entertain us, that they mean nothing. They’re puppets on our strings, never allowed to feel, or truly live. We yell at them when they speak out about their beliefs and values because they’re no longer a dancing monkey; they’re suddenly someone with a brain, a heart, and a soul. A Star is Born works because it reminds us that there are no dancing monkeys or puppets. We’re all human. We’re all susceptible to the torture and pain of life. And in a way, the pain can be even worse when it’s on a stage for the entire world to see.
A Star Is Born is currently in select theaters and hits DVD and Blu-Ray on February 19th.