A Star Is Born movie review: The honesty behind the glitz

A Star Is Born film, photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
A Star Is Born film, photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures /

Despite this being the fourth version of the same story, Bradley Cooper’s adaptation of A Star Is Born is still an intricate and honest look at the hardships of the music industry.

The music industry can be best described as ‘glittery, but cynical’, consistently drowning the harsh realities of the sacrifices artists make to succeed in the vast and colorful field of lights, cameras, and false narratives. The world of music can make or break the careers and personal lives of musical artists, especially in the era of the all-powerful world of the internet. In fact, the world of internet is arguably what was holding Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born, down to the status of an underdog film.

Firstly, there was the factor of Bradley Cooper, a well-known and respected actor, trying his hand at directing. Cooper is making his directorial debut with A Star Is Born, in addition to having writing and producing credits on it, as WELL as being one of the main stars in front of the screen. Cooper juggles multiple essential roles to the production of the film and no matter how strongly an actor’s positive reputation may proceed them, putting themselves out there in such a bold manner will open the doors for ridicule from every reach of the internet, which can take a first-time director’s weaknesses and amplify them to the point of extremity.

Secondly, there was the issue with A Star Is Born being kept in developmental hell, essentially purgatory for the film industry. The film was first mentioned all the way back in 2011, when it was announced that Clint Eastwood was set to direct the remake and Beyonce herself was to be the female lead.

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An interesting combination for sure, but it never came to be as the project continued to be delayed over the next 6 years, with the likes of Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more being rumored to star before setting Cooper in stone to star opposite famed pop artist, Lady Gaga, back in 2017. It was doubtful that after 6+ years in development hell, A Star Is Born would even see the light of day, much less have audiences salivating over seeing it.

A stale concept?

A Star Is Born‘s case wasn’t helped by the fact that this would be the THIRD remake of the original 1937 film of the same name. A story that is not only over 80 years old, but something that has been consistently remade, once in 1954 with Judy Garland and once again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

A Star is Born, photo credit: Clay Enos via WB Media Pass
A Star is Born, photo credit: Clay Enos via WB Media Pass /

It’s not exactly a fresh story and honestly, it’s not even a fresh concept. The concept of a young and bright-eyed musician with dreams of stardom succumbing to the glamorous greed and corruption of the music industry is something we’ve seen tackled in films like Walk the Line, Notorious, Straight Outta Compton, and even the previous versions of this film. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was even a parody of these cliches, so when the concept has been used to the point of parody and mocking, something’s gotta change.

A modern perspective

Having said all of that, Bradley Cooper’s adaptation of A Star Is Born wrings out the stale and overdone concept and adds its own modern charm and honesty to the tale of stardom born out of love. This new tale starts off at the middle of an older tale, specifically the tale of famed country rock musician, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). Maine is the embodiment of a rugged rock star: a cool and distant stage persona, an insane admiration for energetic rock solos, and hard drinking.

A Star is Born, photo credit: Clay Enos via WB Media Pass
A Star is Born, photo credit: Clay Enos via WB Media Pass /

The hard drinking, in particular, is what keeps Maine going, as he’s seen having a quick drink before going onstage to perform and afterwards in the back of his limo. Cooper’s performance contains plenty of slurred dialogue in between downing more shots that sells a laid-back, yet incredibly problematic man whose personal demons are only kept at bay by alcohol and drugs. Jackson Maine is not always likable, but Cooper still brings a grounded sense to Jackson’s problems. Jackson is suffering, but in no way does Cooper keep Jackson out of the blame game, highlighting the ugliness that comes with the admittedly genuine charm of the rock star.

It’s this charm that manages to win Ally (Lady Gaga) over during the first act. Ally works a day job as a waitress but moonlights as a club singer at a drag bar, where her rendition of “La Vie en rose” catches Jackson by surprise. The two form a strange, but strong connection, to the point where Jackson invites her onstage to perform one of her original songs, becoming a viral sensation in the process. From there, A Star Is Born transitions into a story of passion and embracing change, one which doesn’t hold back on the subtlety.

Stars are born

A Star Is Born is absolutely heavy and packed with emotionally devastating scenes of a power couple struggling to find balance between the real world and the industry world. Jackson is an old-timer, stuck in his ways, while Ally is a beacon for welcoming change. It’s two different worlds colliding into one and Cooper and Gaga make for great casting of these roles with honest and pitch perfect performances.

A Star Is Born, Shallow, Lady Gaga
A Star is Born, photo credit: Clay Enos via WB Media Pass /

Cooper’s Jackson, in particular, gets the most screentime of the two leads, surprisingly. The film opts to follow and explore Jackson’s backstory, which includes a rough childhood with his older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliot in a tender and emotional performance of his own). We get to learn about why he drinks so much, along with the root of some of his deeper issues, but as a result, Ally’s own backstory seems shelved in the process. Jackson is essentially our lead character and with the development he receives as the film goes on, that’s not always a wise choice.

Jackson, though compelling, is far from the most likable character, with his erratic behavior revealing the ugliest parts of his personality. Though the film doesn’t let him off the hook for what he does and says, Jackson can come across as selfish and toxic in nature, something which the film itself takes a long while to explore in-depth. Cooper gives one of his strongest and most powerful performances to date here, but it’s seemingly at the cost of the film’s pacing and his co-star’s screentime. For being called A Star Is Born, this film likes to focus a little too much on the older fading star to mixed results.

Luckily, A Star Is Born is elevated higher by the tremendous, vulnerable, and cracking performance of one Lady Gaga. She is no stranger to acting and her stage persona has revealed a woman with charisma and eccentricity that would translate well into filmed media. But A Star Is Born sees Gaga at her most bare-bones, playing a committed and optimistic singer-songwriter with a homely charm to her performance. Gaga is a breakout here, exhibiting star power in the form of the nuanced and humble Ally, who navigates the world of the music industry with strong determination that is fresh for a film focusing on music. Equal parts scrappy and powerful, Lady Gaga is sure to enter the Oscar race with much-need and deserved momentum.

A Star is Born, Oscars
A Star is Born, photo credit: Neal Preston via WB Media Pass /


In truth, A Star Is Born is honestly the perfect Oscar film for this season. It’s an in-depth (if not fairly overdramatic) look into the entertainment industry, complete with original songs, all performed strongly by its two well-matched leads, intense drama, and the kind of subject that appeals to both Oscar voters and general audiences quite well. The film may not be entirely flawless (the editing, in particular, comes close to actually ruining the emotional impact of some key scenes) and Cooper is far from a phenomenal directorial debut, but A Star Is Born stands on more than enough merits to overlook some of the more glaring hiccups.

A Star Is Born thrives from its heart and emotion, which make up a bulk of the film’s second act to be specific, but it would be dishonest to overlook the clear potential that both Cooper and Gaga brought to the table here. Not only has Gaga proven herself to be a versatile actress with her leading role here, but Cooper’s frantic and disorientating direction shows potential for his directorial career in the future. Cooper has taken to the job fairly smoothly, but there’s always a chance for improvement and if this film ends up being the major Oscar contender it’s setting up to be, TWO stars could eventually be born out of this. Either way, something was born in A Star Is Born and I think we should see more.

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Final Verdict: 7/10

A Star Is Born is out now in theaters!