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Thursday, August 29, 2019

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[Review] A Star is Born (2018)


Four, five, or six. That’s how many times they’ve made this story happen. Five, if you count 1932’s ‘What Price Hollywood?’ in. Six, with its Bollywood iteration ‘Aashiqui 2’ included. But like twelve notes between any octave, how we hear them depends on how they see these notes. And here, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga digs, deeper to that recurring deep. ‪The first hour is a sugar rush of infectious romantic undertones, and to quote Jackson himself “stuff of angels”. Cooper invests so much in their first encounter, as captivating as Gaga’s sultry rendition of La Vie en Rose and as exhilarating as Cooper’s abrasive riffs in Black Eyes, but the adrenaline peak unveils when the two collide: an intense, earnest moment that rewards audience’s—and their—longing desire in the best possible way. 

As the narrative takes a one-eighty, A Star is Born uncovers its true intention: a forthright depiction of substance dependence and a burlesque of today’s music industry. More than its antecedents, the script treats our two leads with delicacy and depth, as it leaves so much room for them to breathe. Cooper’s Jackson is a redefined epitome of his previous male leads’ self-destructive template. His psyche still revolves around the legacy, but it grants us something vivid and essentially, darker. Gaga’s Ally draws an underlying tie-in between Streisand’s and Garland’s Esther: part rebellious and part timid, she evokes naturalistic presence as her unabridged magnetism takes the centerpiece. In addition, Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay bring strong—though brief—performances that further reinforce our two leads’ dynamics.


A Star is Born is, at core, a Hollywood tragedy, and as evidenced by its previous interpretations, it’s easily overwhelmed by soapy, or even phony remarks. Yet here, realism stands front and center. Cooper’s approach to craft conversation leaves no hollow. Their words to each other aren’t only telling, they’re revealing. Each dialogue exchange is effortlessly articulate and expressively reflective, or to put it simply: they feel real. But crafting doesn’t stop at solidifying flavors. Cooper’s direction projects a magnitude of splendor, achieved by its rhythmic yet dynamic flair between Libatique’s shaky camera movements, detailed close-ups, and well-orchestrated lights and colors. He tries to portray two worlds, one in front of and the other beyond the screen, distinctively. They’re loud and silent, burning and alienating. This decision provides a profound insight into their heads, although comes at a price, noticeably the pacing during the second act. Still, it manages to get back on its feet, as it dives into the third act and rebounds its emotional capstone. 

Musically invigorating, powerfully acted, and emotionally affecting, A Star is Born is a remarkable entrance to Cooper’s natural touch of filmmaking and Gaga’s gifted sense as an actress. It’s intoxicating onstage and passionate offstage, but inside, there’s an intimate gaze into the humane sphere of fame, co-dependency, and addiction that surprisingly, still holds onto its glossy Hollywood apotheosis. And that is, a rare thing.


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