starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott
screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
directed by Bradley Cooper
by Angelo Muredda It says a lot about A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, that the most emotionally cathartic stuff pours out as freely in the incredible trailer and its savviest meme offspring, where diva Pokémon Jigglypuff croons the entrancing opening bars of Lady Gaga's big stage debut for a rapt audience, than it does in the actual film, a polished first-act pitch in search of a payoff. That everything after the titular birth seems like apocrypha, weirdly playing both too long and as if it's running at 1.5x speed, is disappointing given the first act's charm offensive, though you can't put the blame squarely on the multi-hyphenate's already-overtaxed shoulders. It's probably asking too much of this third official crack at material first made into a vehicle for Janet Gaynor in 1937 to expect it to offer a wholly fresh take on a vaguely eugenic premise about how one half of a creative power couple can only thrive while the other languishes in obscurity. A first-time helmer with a stake in how his character's tragic narrative trajectory plays out, Cooper seems at once fired up by the meet-cute potential of the premise, which he nails, and stuck at a creative crossroads with the more melancholy, sepia-toned stuff that probably first drew the previously-attached Clint Eastwood's attention.
Cooper's own take on the previous films' notes is never less than likeable, and he and Gaga have warm, jokey chemistry in the couple's first night together. He glides smoothly from the safe space of the bar--whose depiction feels like a respectful nod to Gaga's queer fan base as well as a tribute to the depiction of the Cheetah as a downmarket family home for misfits in Showgirls--to a fateful wind-down in a parking lot, where Ally first belts out That Song from the trailer. But whether it's due to the shift in timeline from the more manageable right-now of a first date to amorphous montages that span months, singles, and records; an inability to imagine what, exactly, Ally's rise (and Jackson's career stall) might look like; or a frustration with how to square its predecessors' genre-steeped, melodramatic approach to substance abuse with a realist's interest in how it might originate in depression and childhood trauma, the film's structure seems to slip away from Cooper, becoming a series of dutifully-hit marks. That's a shame, because the first hour of A Star is Born is about as good as this kind of poptimist cinema gets. Programme: Gala Presentations