Bradley Cooper brings back a contemporary remake of a beloved Hollywood classic in ‘A Star is Born,’ with less glitter and more realistic textures, showcasing the dark pits of dreams and stardom.
Led by his raw and poetic direction, Cooper shows the movie from the artist’s perspective — camera angles from the back of the performer’s shoulders, enveloping a mosh-pit visual, contrasting the silhouette of the artist facing the audience. It comes in such rare occasions where performances are shown from the artist’s point of view, where the faces of the audience are established as a chain reaction towards the music in the film. It was never about “how great the performers are”; it was about “what the effect of the music to the audience is”.
The cinematography is a character in itself. Every shot establishes a certain truth, and a certain lie. How Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson (Bradley Cooper) converses about song writing, the camera angles from the back, showing nothing but an empty parking lot and their faces from their head-point perspective. This mise-en-scene suggests their truth as musicians, that they are pouring their own reality without having the need to please anybody. The same way how Ally sees Jackson performing for the first time, the camera pans from the backstage, capturing an artist’s POV from stage to audience. The camera establishes what she sees: Jackson facing the crowd, with his back and nape sweating, and hundreds of people running business behind the scenes. It shows how music is all about hardwork, human labor, with the audience roaring in excitement as the product of this profession. It shines a light on the truth about performers, and not just showcasing the vanity of how great they are from a front angle. A Star is Born reverses that sight. Later on, upon Ally’s star power transformation as she performs in Saturday Night Live as a glamour girl with nothing but empty music, the camera suddenly is in front of the stage — this serves as a commentary as to what the current climate of the music industry is, where the truth of musical artistry is dying and the audience sees gimmicks instead of talents. This facing-the-stage camera angle is now all about pleasing the audience.
Let’s talk about Lady Gaga. The woman has to be commended for stripping down to her soul, losing her vanity, and going bare to her bones in a performance that’s very raw and human without the periphery of crazy costumes and theatrical characterization. To tell you the truth, I had very low expectations with Gaga’s acting. Fresh from watching her TV stint in American Horror Story: Hotel where she was wooden as a cardboard, I immediately knew she didn’t have the chops for dramatic acting. But as the film’s title suggests, a star is born through this film — Lady Gaga turns out to be a revelation. But is she really that good? For me, if I were to compare her performance as Ally in her own acting standard, she is beyond excellent. It was definitely a departure from her campy music videos, and dead-pan TV performances. It’s almost unthinkable how the monster in a meat dress and this human portrait on film is the same person. She did excellent in a “Lady Gaga standard”. But, separating the artist from the artwork is a different story. If I were to be bias-free and not knowing what Gaga is capable and not capable of, her performance as Ally is still a bit lukewarm. I’ve been craving for in-between moments from her. I wanted to see her in-betweens of very happy, and very sad. I craved for a range that’ll take me to what it actually felt like to be nominated for 3 Grammys including Best New Artist, and to face grief, rejection and adversity. All she gave was very happy, and very sad. She lacked the nuances that I hoped for in a character that’s very capable of every human emotion, given the fact that she has been through so much. Gaga didn’t bring me there. However, she brought passion, which I think is good enough. Her performance was passionate and hungry. Starving, almost. Starving for that dream, and itching to share her God-given talents. I think that’s what it’s all about: a passionate performance with killer vocals. She may not have the acting range, but her vocal range is beyond heaven and earth.
Bradley Cooper, as per usual, brings the method in acting. His performance as Jackson Maine is Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart meets Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. It was equally gritty and vulnerable. Unlike Gaga, Cooper’s acting range is beyond the roof. Not to mention, his singing ability was pleasantly surprising, too. Cooper gives his most humane performance since American Sniper in 2014.
Overall, let’s give huge thanks to Damien Chazelle for bringing La La Land in 2016. La La Land brought back the musical game to the table. And after its success, The Greatest Showman, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, A Star is Born, and in a couple of months, Bohemian Rhapsody and Mary Poppins Returns, have dominated 2017 and 2018. And A Star is Born, rises to the top as one of the best since La La Land.
In a nutshell, A Star is Born is a very poetic, human, and intensely raw musical, with iconic performances from Gaga and Cooper. The film seals the deal: the musical era is officially back.
5 out of 5 stars