Theatrically speaking, AStarIsBorn is a tale as old as time as this is the third remake of an original that hit screens over eight decades ago. The framework remains the same in the story of love, addiction, and celebrity. To his considerable credit, Bradley Cooper finds a way to inject some life into this melodramatic musical journey. He does so with his own work in front of the camera and his direction of his costar. It feels odd to claim this is a star making performance from Lady Gaga, who happens to be one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. While we knew her amazing vocal abilities and showmanship, this picture proves she’s an equally impressive actor.
Cooper is Jackson Maine, a country rock star with a severe alcohol addiction. He’s already well-established in his field and selling out stadiums. One night his restless spirit after a gig leads him to a drag bar. Actually it’s more his desire to find a place that serves drinks. In that unlikely establishment is where he discovers Ally (Gaga). She waitresses there and she’s the only non queen allowed to belt out tunes like “La Vie en rose”. Jackson is smitten with her voice and with her.
Their chance encounter is where Ally’s star is born and what transpires in the first half is a thrilling whirlwind for her and the audience. This section provides the most satisfying moments. She’s whisked all over the country with her new mentor and love interest. Cooper’s direction and the screenplay from him, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters manages to match Jackson’s energy in the picture’s pacing. As Ally begins to branch out of his shadow to more pop friendly (and far less soulful tracks) with the help of a British manager (Rafi Gavron), Jackson’s deeply rooted issues become more pronounced. While the second half here provides more dramatic heft, it also does so with more familiar themes. Ally’s storyline curiously becomes less compelling as her beau spirals out of control.
Sam Elliot is Jackson’s much older brother and manager, who serves as a complicated father figure (and vocal inspiration). In Cooper’s performance, he drops his voice a couple octaves and his reported extensive vocal training pays off. This doesn’t feel like an actor trying to masquerade as a singer. His work here is remarkable in every facet. We know Gaga hardly needs that kind of training. It’s expected that she’ll nail her songs and she does. Yet she also proves herself to be a natural actress and her emotional range matches her more experienced counterpart. The supporting cast also includes two famed comedians with Dave Chappelle turning up briefly as an ex-musician who’s happily left the business and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s chauffeur father.
The chemistry of the two leads is the reason the latest Star often shines, especially early on. To borrow the title from Gaga’s debut album, the film’s beats become more traditional when it moves to the dark side of the fame monster. So while we have a well-worn narrative before us, Cooper and his muse succeed in making this worth taking another look at.
Riding a wave of serious Oscar buzz, A Star Is Born is unveiled in theaters next weekend. The musical romance is the third remake of the 1937 film (the last was from 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). It marks the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper, who also stars as an alcoholic country singer who discovers and falls for a budding superstar (Lady Gaga). Costars include Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, and Rafi Gavron.
After premiering at the Venice Film Festival weeks ago, Star immediately garnered awards attention. With great reviews (95% on Rotten Tomatoes), this is seen as a serious contender in a number of races including Best Picture. The performances of Cooper and Gaga have been met with raves. While she’s one of music’s biggest names, Gaga’s filmography has been limited to FX’s “American Horror Story” and Machete Kills. She seems destined to pick up an Oscar nod.
The likelihood is that Star will ride its awards chatter to solid grosses throughout the fall. How high it opens is more of a mystery. While it will almost certainly place second to Venom, the range is significant. I believe a gross of over $40 million is achievable.
A Star Is Born opening weekend prediction: $48.6 million
One of the most eagerly awaited pictures has debuted at Venice today with A Star Is Born. The film is the third remake of a tale that began onscreen over 80 years ago. The 1937 version starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The 1954 Star featured Judy Garland and James Mason. The 1976 version featured Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. All three of them received multiple Oscar nominations. None of them were featured in the Best Picture race.
That is probably about to change. The 2018 Star is directed, co-written, and starring Bradley Cooper in his debut behind the camera. His acting counterpart is Lady Gaga. Early reviews have praised both of their performances and it appears very likely both will be honored in their respective lead acting races. This would obviously be Gaga’s first nomination and Cooper’s fourth after Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. Cooper may well find himself honored for his direction and Adapted Screenplay alongside Eric Roth and Will Fetters.
As for supporting players, the Academy may take notice of Sam Elliot’s work as Cooper’s older brother. Critics have also pointed out the performance of Rafi Gavron as the manager of Cooper’s troubled music superstar character.
Several down the line categories could in the mix including Cinematography, Editing, both Sound races, and Gaga’s original songs that are expected to be part of the soundtrack.
Bottom line: Another contender was born today in Venice – one with serious star power.
A Star Is Born opens domestically on October 5. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…