Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Star Is Born

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Most remakes are usually nothing but mediocre, nostalgic cash grabs. Remakes of remakes are even worse (1980's The Jazz Singer & 2016's Ben-Hur). Remakes of remakes of remakes? Well, we've rarely had any, so we don't know what to expect.

When I first heard that they were doing another remake of A Star Is Born, I met it with some skepticism. When the trailer came out in June, I thought it looked good, although I still felt a bit skeptical about it, since it was the fourth version (fifth if you count the 1932 film What Price Hollywood?). Eventually, after seeing the trailer multiple times, I warmed up to it. And finally, when vastly positive word-of-mouth came from its appearances at both Venice & Toronto, I was almost sure that I would, at the least, think it would be very good.

But I didn't think A Star Is Born was very good. It's not even great. It's an absolute tour de force. Based on the 1937 film A Star Is Born, the film follows Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a very successful country singer. Jackson routinely performs to sell-out crowds across the country. His biggest supporter is his much-older brother & manager, Bobby (played by Sam Elliott). Another supporter is his old friend & fellow musician, George "Noodles" Stone (played by Dave Chappelle). However, behind the successful facade is a destructive battle with alcoholism & drug addiction.

One night, after a performance in Los Angeles, Jackson stops in at a gay bar to get some drinks. There, he sees someone sing Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose. The singer is Ally Campana (played by Lady Gaga), an aspiring singer-songwriter who once worked at the bar, but now works as a cook at a restaurant with her friend, Ramon (played by Anthony Ramos), & still lives with her father, Lorenzo (played by Andrew Dice Clay). Jackson is just completely blown away by Ally's singing. Afterwards, they start talking & spend the night together. Ally confides in Jackson that although people admire her singing ability, some have said she wouldn't make it because she has a "big nose."

Jackson then invites Ally to his next show; however, she declines due to work, much to the chagrin of Jackson & Lorenzo. However, soon after, Ally quits her job, & then leaves, along with Ramon, to go to Jackson's show. When they arrive, Jackson sees her backstage, & then asks her to come on stage to sing a song with him that she wrote called Shallow. Ally is taken aback & is nervous, but eventually comes on, blows away the crowd, & becomes an overnight sensation. Eventually, Ally joins Jackson on tour, & they take their relationship to the next level.

As Ally's career keeps rising, as she is pushed from a country sound to a pop sound, Jackson's career starts to crumble due to his alcoholism. As Ally ponders whether or not her new image is right for her, & as Jackson tries to get help for his issues, they must both figure out how to keep their relationship afloat.

The cast is fantastic. Bradley Cooper is at the top of his game here. Not only can he sing so great, he can also bring the house down with his emotionally-driven performance. He brings so much pain & heartache to the performance to the point where it feels almost completely personal, & not just cinematic.

Lady Gaga is a complete revelation. Not since Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls has there been a more commanding acting debut by a singer. Of course, Lady Gaga brings her powerhouse vocals to the role, but she does much more than that. She feels so far away from her real-life persona here that we don't see Gaga, or even Stefani Germanotta (Gaga's real name). We only see Ally, a determined woman who wants the entire world, & she feels so incredibly human in her goals & desires. Just give her the Oscar already.

Sam Elliott also gives a career-best performance. Elliott shows a lot of restraint, & there's one scene where his acting talent is put on full display, where he can break your heart without even saying a word.

The rest of the cast, especially Clay & Chappelle, are terrific, as Clay feels like an admirable person for once, & Chappelle shows that he can do drama just as well as he does comedy.

Bradley Cooper's direction is phenomenal. For a filmmaking debut, Cooper has the visual style & the gritty, emotional feel of a seasoned veteran. He is able to dig deep into his characters, eliciting deep emotions throughout the film. Behind the camera, Cooper is a powerful compound of a Stop Making Sense-era Jonathan Demme, a Million Dollar Baby-era Clint Eastwood, & a Before Trilogy-era Richard Linklater. Altogether, Cooper is just as good behind the camera as he is in front of it.

The screenplay by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth & Will Fetters is amazing. The plot is very intriguing, & feels completely fresh. The characters feel incredibly real, especially the chemistry between Cooper & Gaga's characters. And the dialogue is just incredible, always tender but never sentimental.

Matthew Libatique's cinematography is astonishing. His framing is just perfect, especially in various close-up shots of the characters' faces, putting their emotions on full display.

Jay Cassidy's editing is excellent. The pacing is especially excellent: a slow build-up in the first half to reflect the rise up for Ally, & then a faster, grittier pacing in the second half to reflect Jackson's downfall.

The sound design is impeccable. It's always a struggle to get the sound levels perfect in musicals, but it's even more of a struggle if they're actually singing the songs live, which was done here. But the sound design team pulled it off, as the vocals & instruments sound absolutely pitch-perfect.

And the music is absolutely wonderful. Every song is filled with powerful vocals & astounding songwriting, &, in my opinion, it's one of the best soundtracks ever made.

This is the best film of the year. It's a powerful, affectionate, soaring, & overall masterful work of art. Give this all the awards that it definitely deserves.

A Star Is Born was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 on Saturday, October 6, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 136 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity & substance abuse.

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