Release Date(s)2018 (February 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Warner Bros./MGM/Live Nation Productions (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
The story is timeless. An entertainer, once at the top but now destroying himself, sees untapped talent in another and fosters it. A Star Is Born, this time in its fourth incarnation, stars Bradley Cooper as the disintegrating icon and Lady Gaga as his worthy discovery.
Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a singer/songwriter of country-inflected rock songs who sells out stage shows across the country. He’s also an alcoholic and drug addict. Emptying a bottle in his limo, he has his driver (Greg Grunberg) stop at the first bar they find. It turns out to be a drag bar where a young singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) is delivering a riveting rendition of La Vie en Rose. Intrigued, Jackson invites her to another bar, where their conversation gets interrupted by a late-night fight.
Escaping to a convenience store parking lot, they have a long chat and Jackson learns that Ally also writes songs. He sees in her the potential to be a star. At his next gig, he invites her to sing with him onstage. The audience goes wild, a video of the duet goes viral, and Ally is on her way to success beyond her dreams.
Cooper, who also directs, brings a fresh spin to this decades-old story. He gives Jackson an older half-brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), who raised him after the death of their father. Bobby now works for him, taking care of bookings and making sure his shows go smoothly. Cooper also gives us a look at Ally’s home life. She lives with her father (Andrew Dice Clay), who entertains the drivers working for his limousine business with stories about Frank Sinatra and his own wished-for brushes with show biz. And Cooper introduces entrepreneur/producer Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron) with the right connections enables Ally’s career to grow. The behind-the-scenes conversations and glimpses of pre-performance moments capture the nervousness and self-doubt a performer must deal with before facing a live audience.
Cooper gives himself plenty of screen time and turns in a well-balanced performance as Jackson, who still packs in the crowds and has become more and more dependent on the bottle to get him through shows. In close-ups, listening to Ally, he combines fascination and growing affection for a young woman unlike others he’s known. When he sings, he’s good, though not at a level to justify the massive crowds filmed at actual concert venues.
Lady Gaga is excellent as Ally. Initially suspicious of Jackson’s motives, Ally takes time to warm to him, recognizing in him more than rock superstar. She is made over by the show biz forces propelling her to greater and greater heights while Jackson’s own career is falling apart. The dual paths – one up, the other down – form the main dramatic thread of A Star Is Born. Eschewing the elaborate costuming and hairstyles of her stage persona, Lady Gaga portrays Ally sans make-up, with her own hair color, and with a natural, easy delivery. Despite a few scenes in which she reveals a short fuse, Ally displays both vulnerability and humility even as her fame grows.
Lady Gaga follows in the footsteps of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand, who all played the central role in previous versions of A Star Is Born. The difficulty of remaking a famous film is bringing to it something fresh. Director Cooper keeps the main story on a familiar track while showcasing a marvelous talent. He makes Ally’s transitions from shy, introverted songwriter to superstar believable. She’s not shown to be an overnight sensation, and it’s made clear that she has professionals working behind the scenes to increase her exposure and hype her image, making the story more credible.
While A Star Is Born isn't the first screen performance from Lady Gaga, it's certainly an auspicious one. She has the dramatic chops and has earned an Oscar nomination for her performance. Her performance is worth the price of admission. Such a portrayal is rare in big-screen features.
The Blu-ray release contains 1080p high definition resolution. Aspect ratio is 2.4:1. There is an unusually large number of lens flare shots, in which bright light causes patterns on the camera lens, drawing attention to the process of filming. Cinematographers generally try to avoid these, but director Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique apparently wanted them for dramatic effect. However, their use is overdone and they become distracting.
Audio options are English Dolby Atmos True HD and English DTS-HD Master Audio. Sound separation is excellent, particularly for the music sequences. Audience applause, crowded bar chatter, and backstage preparation noise blend well with dialogue and never overpower it. Cooper slurs some of his dialogue, particularly when his character has been drinking or doing drugs. The soundtrack has been recorded with care and attention to detail. The English soundtrack and English descriptive audio are 5.1 Dolby Digital. French, Spanish, and Portuguese language audio are available options. A DVD and Digital Copy are contained in the 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack.
Bonus materials include a making-of featurette, songs and performances not seen in theaters, and music videos.
The Road to Stardom: Making A Star Is Born – Director/star Bradley Cooper has always wanted to make a love story. He and Lady Gaga discuss the creative process. Lady Gaga compares her own life to that of Ally. Cooper took intensive singing and piano lessons to prepare for the role of Jackson Maine. Actual musicians, rather than actors, were chosen to play Maine’s back-up band. Sam Elliott was impressed with how closely Cooper sounded like him when he heard Cooper’s taped dialogue. Dave Chappelle was hired to play the key role of Maine’s longtime friend “Noodles” Stone. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique talks about how the color palette changes as Maine’s mood brightens when he meets Ally.
Jam Session and Rarities – These sequences contain montage scenes from the film – Midnight Special (jam session), Baby What You Want Me to Do (jam session), and Is That Alright (Lady Gaga).
Music Videos – Shallow (Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper), Always Remember Us This Way (Lady Gaga), Look What I Found (Lady Gaga), and I’ll Never Love Again (Lady Gaga).
Musical Moments – Black Eyes, Maybe It’s Time, Shallow (dialogue), Alibi, Shallow, Always Remember Us This Way, Why Did You Do That?, Oh, Pretty Woman, and I’ll Never Love Again.
– Dennis Seuling