The impetus of the relationship in this film hinged on questionable power dynamics that feel sexist and inappropriately timely. Jack (Cooper) wields his power as a famous musician to relentlessly try to woo Ally (Lady Gaga) until she abandons her life to travel with him after they spend a single night together. Ally’s position as a budding singer herself made Jack’s advances and belief in her talent hard to resist. No matter Jack’s intentions, which prove to be fairly altruistic, it was easy to feel unsettled by this all-too-familiar Hollywood story which usually ends differently. I’d like to forgive these outdated gender politics because this film is, of course, based on a story that originated in 1937. It perhaps wouldn’t have been a true remake if Cooper and Roth had veered from this, but they each hold enough clout to champion a film that feels a bit more modern.
Setting all this aside, Cooper and Gaga had palpable chemistry that was hard not to root for. Though both of their performances were uneven, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga each had scenes that made me question whether I was being too critical. Cooper’s character Jack is a charming piece of shit, which he believably embodies. Jack is tragically and frustratingly flawed, which somehow endears him to the audience and Ally even more. But save for a few emotional peaks, Cooper’s performance was pretty flat and showed minimal depth. I was much more impressed with Gaga, despite her character Ally coming off as a caricature at points. The film often felt autobiographical to Gaga (and many pop stars), as Ally struggles to be accepted as a musician because the industry likes the way she sounds but not the way she looks. The moments that touched upon that issue felt the most genuine. And it almost goes without saying, but any shaky acting was instantly excused whenever she took the stage to perform.
There are a handful of elements to this film that I wanted more of, and some that I wanted less of. The few minutes when Anthony Ramos was on screen were completely joyous. He is an incredibly talented multi-hyphenate who we will be seeing more of very soon (Monsters and Men, out soon), but I wanted to see more of his sweet character Ramon in a film whose turbulent leads quickly become daunting. This is definitely a personal preference, and one that not every viewer will agree with, but I wanted more music. It is clearly the strongest part of the film. “Shallow” is a safe Oscar bet for Best Original Song, and will be fodder for so many covers that I am not looking forward to. Even though he probably wouldn’t have written, directed, and starred in a musical movie if he didn’t, I was still impressed to see that Cooper had genuine musical chops. Every time Ally and Jack play “Shallow” (yes, it obviously happens more than once) is a high for the film, and I am so excited for the Oscars and/or Grammys performance of this song.
The aspect of the film I wanted the least of was actually the story. I found myself completely apathetic to Ally and Jack’s backstories, which served mostly to suffocate the narrative and artificially acquaint us with the characters. It was easy to connect with Ally and Jack even if their stories began when the film did. The inclusion of their families as secondary characters felt extraneous. My main issue is actually that I wanted less movie, which is a recurring pattern for almost every iteration of A Star Is Born. Cooper’s version is around two hours and fifteen minutes, and could’ve easily been ten to fifteen minutes shorter without detriment. The 1954 and 1976 versions both come in at an unreasonable three hours and two minutes, which is essentially inadmissible in today’s short-attention-span society. The original 1937 version is just under two hours, which is the absolute longest any of these films should be.
Going into the film, I was convinced that A Star Is Born would be either my favorite or least favorite film of the latter half of 2018. But after watching it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just an okay film with incredible moments that make its flaws forgivable.