Great performances, some really wonderful directorial flourishes and a great soundtrack elevate the film, but aren’t able to make it soar.
The story is a classic. A legendary star on the decline finds and elevates a young ingenue. Her star rises as his collapses. Their love holds them together through it all.
The film is very smart in the changes it makes to the well known story. Bradley Cooper plays the older star. His career is not on the decline. He is in a steady place. He’s a drug addict and alcoholic, but he’s functioning. She is not a young ingenue. She is older, wiser, world weary herself. She has her own internal life and perspective. He doesn’t make her over in his image and give her stardom. She is a star and he gives her a stage. It’s a nice update to the story.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the two leads are stunning together. The film does a wonderful job crafting and exploring a genuine relationship between these two. It is a relationship that carries the rest of the film. It is the reason this film is as good as it is. If that failed or faltered the movie would have been a waste, but it works throughout. She is natural and steady and brings honest feeling to every moment. He returns the same level of genuine feeling. No one ever rings a false note in the movie performance wise. To watch Gaga play a woman terrified of getting on stage and then making the leap and making the audience believe that she’s never performed before a crowd this size is a genuinely wonderful feat of acting. Cooper is able to show such hurt and truth in his eyes no matter what is happening or how sober his character is.
One of the best scenes in the entire film though involves Cooper and Sam Elliot. They play brothers. They have hurt and fought each other their whole lives, and Elliot is giving him a ride home. In the driveway Cooper tells him something heartbreaking. Elliot drives away. The camera is in the backseat and as Elliot turns in his seat to back out his face becomes visible. The heartbreak is palpable in his face. The build up to this moment is perfect. The timing is exact. The camera placement and shot is brilliant. It turns the audience into the an eavesdropper. It generates a genuine moment of feeling. It’ll break the heart of anyone who sees it.
The place where the film falters is in the depiction of fame. After an hour with these characters, the film jumps into montage territory. A huge chunk of the film becomes one big concert and tour montage. So much time is devoted to snippets of songs and what life is like on the road. It is okay, but it doesn’t add much to the relationships or advance the story in a truly effective way. The film just kind of happens for a long time until the story picks up again.
The other misstep in the film that hampers its greatness is the contrived way it leads to its final tragedy. The film adds a scheming manager character to push the plot to its conclusion. The film didn’t need this. The story has all the elements right there in place. It doesn’t need this additional element to make it happen.
This paragraph goes into more detail about the scheming manager subplot. It may spoil the movie for some. Skip to the next paragraph to avoid the spoiler… Anyway, the film ends with Cooper’s suicide. His character gets sober, but a scheming manager shows up and tells him he’s going to ruin Gaga’s career if he’s around. He then kills himself. This didn’t need to happen. The film has all the elements in place. His drug addiction, his alcoholism, his embarrassing behavior, the way he’s treated her and hindered her career, the things we’ve seen are compelling enough. The film didn’t need the deus ex machina to get the story to this point. It feels contrived and diminishes the effect of the actual moment and the true tragedy of the story.
That said, the film has some wonderful stuff. It is a really good film. It deserves to be seen and enjoyed. It is my cup of tea. Grade – B+