By C.B. Radio
What is it about the allure of fame that captures the hearts of stars and the public alike? There’s something about “A Star Is Born” that made first-time director Bradley Cooper want to risk his career. His friends and family told him to start small. Direct a TV pilot, perhaps? Hell – make an album! But steadfast Bradley refused. It had to be “A Star Is Born.”
It’s easy to be facetious about the latest Hollywood remake of a Hollywood remake, with its recyclable plot and roles that walk that razor-fine line between character and cliche. (Jackson, Wyoming? No! Jackson Maine.) In fact, “A Star Is Born” had its cards stacked against it since its incredible, meme-ready trailer dropped earlier this year. “Hey,” Bradley’s country drawl grabs your attention as he rolls down his car window. “Just want to get another look at you.” Jesus.
Of course, what seems overdramatic out of context can be Shakespearean in the right hands, and the great irony of 2018’s iteration of “A Star Is Born” is that Bradley Cooper, who writes and directs with little overt flourish, is more Altman than Spielberg, more latter-day P.T. Anderson than Quentin Tarantino. What could – and by all accounts should – have been a cheese-fest is actually one of the best movies of the year: go figure.
It starts with a solid script, co-written by Cooper and full of lovely little moments that define these well-worn characters and their relationships to each other. He’s content to let his actors’ faces fill the camera frame. Trust is a central theme. What convinces the ever-ambivalent Ally to come onstage to sing her song? “You just have to trust me,” Jackson tells her. Cooper is saying the same thing to us as moviegoers. He’s not going to steer us wrong.
Across its more than two-hour runtime, he rarely does. So much had to go right: the songs are mostly great, including the Jason Isbel-penned standout “Maybe It’s Time.” Gaga, once seen as a liability, is now the Best Actress Oscar front runner. Cooper himself turns in his best performance to date. (Maybe that part’s easy when you’re the one in the director’s chair? I’m sure Bradley asked his director-in-crime, Clint Eastwood, who originally planned to direct the movie with Beyoncé as its star – seriously.)
There’s a lot of truth to be found in fully-committed performances, and two of the year’s best can be found here. One pivotal scene features Jackson and Ally half-conversing inside a rehab facility. The scene is performed with glances and hushed tones. What’s implied is more important than what’s said. The subtlety reminds me more of 2016’s “Manchester By The Sea” than any previous iteration of this story.
Cooper and company have made a film that’s about addiction and relationships more than it concerns money and fame, though all go hand-in-hand in this whirlwind of a story. And while “A Star Is Born” isn’t entirely devoid of cheese – Gaga’s last eulogy hits a flat note in the film’s final moments – the movie works overall thanks to Cooper’s steadfast devotion to his story and his actors. A little trust goes a long way. Bradley, I won’t doubt you again. Now let me take another look at you.