Transitions from actor to director, or pop star to movie star, have had mixed results over the years. There have been successes like Ben Affleck directing “Argo” or Beyonce starring in “Dreamgirls,” but there have also been massive failures like George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” or Rihanna in “Battleship.”
In “A Star is Born,” directed by Bradley Cooper and starring himself and Lady Gaga, these two stars mostly succeed in this difficult transition.
The film tells the love story of fading rockstar Jack (Cooper) and rising pop star Ally (Gaga), as they fall in love, struggle with fame, and deal with Jack’s substance abuse issues. The love story between these two characters is the heart of the film, and the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga works for the most part.
The moments where the chemistry work best occur in the scenes of musical performance. These are scenes like Ally and Jack’s first performance of “Shallow.”
Cooper chose, as director, to forgo the traditional method of having actors lip sync musical performances in film, by instead having himself and Gaga perform the songs live to the camera. In addition, Cooper chooses to focus the camera on the faces of himself and Gaga during musical performances.
This combination of live singing and a camera that never leaves its performers’ faces gives the film’s musical moments a sense of authenticity that builds the love of Jack and Ally, and makes the audience truly believe that these two are rockstars.
Unfortunately, this chemistry and the film itself do not work nearly as well in the non-musical scenes that make up the majority of the film’s nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime.
In these scenes, Cooper’s directorial choice of shooting most of the film in close-up creates a situation where the audience is confused about when and where scenes are taking place. This lack of clarity regarding time and place makes it unclear how long Jack and Ally have been together and dampens the impact of their relationship’s emotional beats.
The lack of believability in Jack and Ally’s love story is hurt even more by the film’s script. Its dozens of so-called romantic lines sound more like a South Park-esque parody of melodramas, and result in what can only be described as mocking laughter from the audience.
Luckily, the performances of Cooper and Gaga, as well as the rest of the ensemble, bring enough power to somewhat redeem the film’s less than stellar script. Cooper gives a true movie star performance as an incredibly charismatic, yet broken, rockstar looking for his last chance in love and life. Meanwhile, Gaga proves herself as someone to watch by playing a strong and warm star on the rise. In addition to these two career defining roles, Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay stand out as Jack’s brother and Ally’s father respectively.
Overall, “A Star is Born” is a promising, yet flawed film. Cooper’s truly remarkable direction of the film’s musical performances and his career-best performance are the start of what could be the next actor/director dual talent. Gaga’s feature film debut shows potential for the next great musical acting double threat.
However, the glaring issues with the film’s script, rookie directorial mistakes, and overlong runtime prevent “A Star is Born” from becoming a truly great film. Instead, it is an enjoyable film with moments of musical greatness. Seriously, “Shallow” slaps. Listen to it right away.
Ben Hafetz is a media studies and politics double major at Pitzer College. He likes to not only see movies, but also tell his friends why they should or should not like certain ones.