You might remember A Star Is Born the way you might remember Katy Perry. The movie’s evocative and high-quality pop that hits you hard in the moment, but when it ends, you won’t think about it. This is a really good movie—worth your money and worth seeing in a theater—but its only accomplishment is its own success. It’s hard to say if that’s enough.
This is the fourth movie under the A Star Is Born title, and like its three predecessors, this latest remake puts two uber-famous celebrities at the center of the story. In the past we’ve seen Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and Kris Kristofferson occupy either of the two romantic leads. This time around it’s Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, a baffling combination on paper but an entirely electric one onscreen. They’re telling a love story here, plain and simple, and the lovers in this movie are great together. From the outset, A Star Is Born boasts terrific talent.
The setup is classic. Cooper’s a washed-up rock star; Gaga’s a diamond-in-the-rough talent swept up in his stardom. As he brings her into his blaze-of-glory life on the road, her fame ascends while his deflates, and the resulting tensions turn their parking-lot songwriting sessions into hateful mansion-bathroom shouting matches.
Watching the love story through its ups and downs, you hope these two make it, and that in itself is the sign of a great movie. Cooper is solid as Jackson Maine—wistful, weathered, drugged out—but Gaga is the jaw-dropper as Ally. She’s undeniable. Her character is presented as a generational talent, and you don’t doubt it for a second thanks to Gaga’s incredible vocal performance, capital-A Acting, enrapturing screen presence and natural report with Cooper. If he isn’t nominated for an Oscar, you wouldn’t blink. If she isn’t, you’ll riot.
At a little more than two hours, A Star Is Born covers a lot of ground. It pours worthy effort into creating two vivid characters and filling them up with complexities and conflicts and ways for them to clash and coalesce. It’s a full movie, but it flies by, and that’s a strength and a weakness. What’s here is so specific it feels valid and believable. At the same time, the movie seems to sit behind a case of glass. There’s no point of entry for us on the other side.
That’s because A Star Is Born never really stops to think about anything beyond its romance. It could have done so, easily. This is a love story that touches on addiction, celebrity, excess and art, but it doesn’t really reflect on those things so much as it involves them.
Compare this treatment to La La Land’s approach a couple years ago. That’s another lovely romance, but La La Land’s final moments define it as a movie about the cost of chasing your dreams. It’s reaches for—and accomplishes—more than boy-meets-girl. And despite those sweeping aims, La La Land never feels heady or pretentious. It’s a fun movie to experience, yet it contains a poignancy that A Star Is Born somehow lacks.
Sharp A Star Is Born viewers might find something to think about later, though they’d have to look harder than the movie might be asking of them. There are myriad concert scenes here (all great), but plenty of off-stage sequences will evoke the look and feel of a live, public performance. Things look like stages even when they aren’t. This makes a garage or a warehouse or a curb by the gas station look just as beautiful as the main stage of Coachella, and while that seems to matter, it’s hard to weave those threads into an idea or message. You might credit that style to some sort of “life as performance” theme, but there’s not enough there to really assert that as intent. Sometimes a movie just wants to make things look as dramatic, theatrical and grandiose as possible. For this story, that approach makes plenty of sense. This is grand, theatrical drama indeed.
In the broader scheme of things, that’s probably alright. This awards season will bring us plenty of meditations on human achievement (First Man), familial dysfunction (Beautiful Boy) and generational legacy (If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma). There will be a lot of cupped chins and furrowed brows at the movies between now and Christmas. Some people want that, but for most, it’s nice to have a movie like A Star Is Born, something you can recommend to just about anyone that won’t be provocative or controversial around the dinner table. Most people will like this movie. That’s to its credit.
A Star Is Born offers a good old fashioned night inside a well-told story. You will gasp, laugh and cry. You will be wowed by the music and taken with the performances. This is a love story dressed up to look like a spectacle, and even if it doesn’t give you a backstage pass to something more memorable or intimate, there’s still not a bad seat in the house. Plus, all that up-close-and-personal stuff? Maybe it’s overrated. If everything left your ears ringing, you wouldn’t be able to hear much of anything.