How does Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut fare? Reviewers give their take.
The reviews for A Star is Born have arrived.
The musical film stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as alcoholic rocker Jackson and struggling singer-songwriter Ally, while Cooper is simultaneously making his feature film directorial debut.
Penned by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, the remake centers on the showbiz love story, based on the original film from 1937, about a rocker (Cooper) whose career is in decline while the career of a female star (Gaga) he discovers catapults into stardom. The film was unveiled at the Venice Film Festival before traveling to Toronto.
With all eyes on Cooper’s directorial debut and Gaga’s venture into leading roles, according to David Rooney’s review, there’s “a lot to love” about the film. Praising Cooper’s “natural charisma,” Rooney writes that the actor gives a “convincing portrayal” of the alcoholic country rocker, so much so that it softens “the self-deconstructive edges” of his character.
The review also notes that Gaga “completely shed her pop persona” and instead embodies a “toughness and vulnerability” that her singer-songwriter character Ally needs. It is this vulnerability that Rooney writes “spares” the film from “falling into the vanity-project trap of the last remake” with Barbra Streisand.
Though the closing scene proves that Gaga’s “skill as an actor” doesn’t equal the same standards as her “impeccable voice,” Rooney writes that it is Cooper’s “fresh take” on the film that “finds plenty of mileage left in the well-trod showbiz saga.” Though Cooper’s “grasp of pacing” could be further improved, the film is a “durable tale of romance, heady fame and crushing tragedy” that is retold for a new generation with “heart and grit.”
Stephanie Zacharek of TIME Magazine also praised Cooper and Gaga’s performances, writing that it is conspicuous that the audience will empathize with the leads who are “flawed individuals who are trying to hold their cracked pieces of self together — or to mend the cracks of those they love.” Zacharaek doesn’t compare Gaga to those who portrayed her part in previous versions — including Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Streisand — but rather emulates Liza Minnelli for channeling “fragility” with “pluckiness.” Gaga is also “charismatic” and showcases vulnerability without hiding behind stage makeup, something Zacharek notes is like “discovering a new country.”
Zacharek writes that Cooper simply “fades into the corner at just the right moments” throughout the film, allowing Gaga to take center stage instead. Zacharek also applauds Cooper’s venture into directing, writing that the actor’s version exemplifies that “there’s always a way to freshen up old material.” “Cooper has succeeded in making a terrific melodrama for the modern age,” Zacharek adds.
Meanwhile, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes that Cooper also embodies his own “huge moments of emotional agony” where he “de-machos the role” throughout the “outrageously watchable” film. Though Bradshaw writes that Cooper is “arguably prettier than Lady Gaga,” the pop star is the one that “commands” the audience’s attention during the film’s duration.
Bradshaw also argues that the film’s title could be altered to read “A Star Is Dying” for the film “alludes tactlessly to something pretty real.” “For one star to deliver the shock of the new, another one has to receive the shock of the old,” Bradshaw argues. “A Star Is Born turns that transaction into a love story.”
Screen Daily’s Jonathan Romney also seems to be impressed by Cooper and Gaga’s portrayals that emerge with “honour” but questions where the secondary characters stand alongside the main leads who “keep the show respectably afloat.” Critiquing that “characterization is thin all round” Romney notes that veteran comic Andrew Dice Clay takes on a “cookie-cutter role as Ally’s doofus Italian-American dad” and Dave Chappelle gives “more grit that the role demands” as Cooper’s Jack’s friend.
Gaga is once again praised for her performance, as Romney writes that her acting “transcends the clichés” and further proves that “a star has been rebooted.” Though enjoyable for many, Romney writes that the film may not “be for everybody” and that the original music performed by Gaga and Cooper, are “unmemorably generic.” Romney also argues that the film can be “sketchy on the mechanics of fame today” including a lack of social media existence.
“A Star Is Born‘s heartwarming aura is owed less to Cooper’s own directing (assured and judicious a debut as it may be) than to the freshness and credibility brought by his fellow superstar. Believe the pre-premiere hype: Lady Gaga is nothing short of extraordinary,” writes the The Film Stage’s Leonardo Goi. Despite the film being Cooper’s directorial debut, Goi credits Gaga’s “goosebump-inducing performances” for taking center stage of the film’s spectacle.
Consistently praising the pop singer for her acting chops, Goi writes that the film simply “showcases oodles of Gaga’s preternatural musical talent, but also confirms — if there was ever a need to prove it — her magnetic stage presence.” Goi acknowledges that the film “is not innovative” for it does not aim to “offer some radical twists” to depart from the story that’s been “dissected and visited for over 80 years,” but Cooper and Gaga’s “miracle of stage chemistry” creates a “touching portrait” for a Hollywood classic.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Leah Greenblatt also praised the performances in the film, including those of supporting actors Chappelle and Clay, which she calls “great unexpected supporting turns.” She notes, “Their characters read much realer and more textured than the ones designed to move the plot along, like Ally’s smooth, ruthless manager Rez (Rafi Gavron), a textbook music-industry Machiavelli.”
On the technical side, Greenblatt praises Cooper’s choice to hew more closely to “the naturalistic New Cinema style of his ’70s predecessor.” She writes, “His camera works with a kind of feverish intimacy, closing in as Ally’s profile rises and Jackson stumbles back toward the bottle.”
Ultimately, Greenblatt concludes, “If the ending is telegraphed from miles away, and the central romance feels more like a gorgeously patina-ed imitation of life than the real thing, maybe that’s because Star is less a story now than a myth — not so much reborn as recast, and passed on to the care of the next generation.”
Though the film stars both Cooper and Gaga in the leading roles, IndieWire’s Michael Nordine writes that the film is more of a “coming-out party” for the singer whereas “Cooper is a co-lead” and has the onscreen goal of playing “second fiddle.” “It’s his co-star whose magnetism most draws you into their world — and keeps you there even when the film hits the occasional wrong note,” writes Nordine.
Meanwhile, Nordine argues that Cooper is “hobbled by the source material” which consist of alcoholism, recovery and “the perils of overnight stardom” ultimately failing at being “as adept” as his predecessors at tackling the character’s troubles. Despite having their own individual stories, Nordine emphasizes that “the film itself feels like a kind of duet, and suffers when the two aren’t sharing the screen.” “Star is less compelling as it expands its focus beyond their central relationship and toward its overarching ideas, some of which can’t help but feel like the plot contrivances they are.”
Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com writes that he viewed the remake as a film that is “very smart about both contemporary showbiz and issues of addiction and abusive behavior.” Cooper, Kenny notes, is an “able” director, whereas Gaga is the epitome of a “breakout performance.” Apart from praising Gaga for offering a “credible update” to Esther Blodgett, Kenny writes that Cooper’s character is given “more of a back story than he’s ever had” in previous versions. Meanwhile Cooper’s directing skills are “at his best” when he positions the camera “close to his performers and captures their intimate interplay.”
Viewing the film as a “Big Movie Studio Craft” that is “well-thought out,” Kenny writes that A Star is Born will please the “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” crowd.
The film hits theaters Oct. 5.