If it seemed like A Star Is Born was christened a classic before it was even released, that’s because yes, the movie has been impossible to escape. There’s been months of marketing, memes, and a wealth of press (a lot of it from this website), throughout which Bradley Cooper somehow graduated from hottest man alive to underdog auteur. In his directorial debut, years in the making, Cooper plays a rock star named Jackson Maine who finds musical—and sensual—kinship with Gaga’s character Ally, an aspiring singer.
A Star Is Born has been a long-awaited cultural event and, most important to us, a potential movie star-making vehicle for Lady Gaga. But now it’s time to determine what this all means. On Thursday night, 10 Jezebel staff members made our way to the deep end for an opening night viewing of Hollywood’s favorite remake. Here’s what we thought. Spoilers ahead.
How It Stacks Up to the Original
The 1976 remake of A Star Is Born featuring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson is a terrible movie, melodramatic, incoherent at times, and over the top. It is unearned schmaltz, a two-hour tragedy watching people who don’t really know each other fall in love in a record amount of time. Also, there’s music and it’s bad. Everything about this version was present in Bradley Cooper’s auteur vision—but negatives turned positive in a way that I still don’t quite understand.
Cooper’s ridiculous, campy, art-school senior interpretation of the classic story of a man dying so a woman can soar is high-brow trash in the purest sense, which puts it miles ahead of the 1976 version, during which we first meet Barbra Streisand, cross-eyed like a Siamese cat, singing dolefully into a microphone, backed by two black women, in a girl group called The Oreos. (Get it?) Cooper’s remake is the fourth iteration of this story, which means it is essentially a franchise now, with iconic moments that need to be recreated in order to feel like you got the full experience.
There are not one but two moments in which the broken, sad sack music man growls, “I just wanted to get another look at you.” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the bathtub is far sexier than Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand’s faux-copulating through a lens smeared thick with Vaseline. The scene at the Grammy’s is much more gut-wrenching in the current version, way darker, and much more grim. There’s a great tragedy that finally frees the woman to be who she was meant to be—a star, newly born.
But everything about the 2018 version was extra. Part of that was Lady Gaga’s performance, which, in comparison to Barbra doing... whatever she did, was stellar. She will win an Oscar for this, I am sure of it. Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine is exactly the kind of damaged asshole a woman can fall for in part because damaged assholes are attractive and damaged assholes who growl Soundgarden/Chris Stapleton/blue-eyed soul while noodling a guitar, more so. Just like in the Streisand version, I wanted the woman to shake the man sooner, so that she could spread her wings and really let loose. At the end, I was moved to a tear and a half. It hit its marks, and honestly (sorry), it was kind of amazing. —Megan Reynolds
The Romantic Leads
Off-screen, in his endless series of “I’m an auteur now” interviews leading up to A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper has vocalized his adoration for Lady Gaga, a love that was strongest when he could remove her makeup and show her without her artifice. Cast that boner-killer of a move aside and his desire does, however surprisingly, come across in the film. But it’s nothing like her’s. Jackson is an electrifying performer and vicious alcoholic, and for Ally there’s considerable chemistry, and charm, and fondness for him despite his disease.
The attraction is there, from the very beginning. When Jack and Ally first lock eyes during her performance of “La Vie En Rose” at a drag bar littered with arguably better actors (Shangela among them), she sees him, really sees him, and offers a soft smile when she recognizes the Eddie Vedder-type in front of her. He responds with a tear and a loopy smile, a familiar move for anyone who’s ever been around (or been) a lascivious drunk. But it turns out to be real l-o-v-e. They’re sweetly affectionate, they go to bone town at least twice throughout the nine-hour long movie, and Cooper says lines like, “Thank you for giving me a home. This place never felt like one before.” Yes, it’s cheesy as fuck, but it’s also weirdly romantic and one of the few moments that Cooper’s fake southern drawl 800 octaves below the earth’s surface doesn’t distract from the amore.
Still, Gaga is responsible for the steam, mostly. Her stellar debut starring role in a ridiculous movie almost makes up for its ridiculousness, and it’s due to a more quiet and loyal affection. Ally’s eyes are intensely locked on Jack whenever they can be, and she checks in on him constantly. The horniest thing about A Star is Born is her devotion. —Maria Sherman
I would like to divide my review of the acting into two parts because the movie was, I believe, incredibly good and then medium bad. During the euphoric first half, when Lady Gaga is wearing all of her best shirts, when she is horniest for Bradley Cooper and he is his horniest for her in return, the performances were a joy. I believed Bradley Cooper was a man who writes Soundgarden songs but dresses like Sturgill Simpson. I believed Lady Gaga was Joe Biden’s daughter. I never wanted it to end, even when they were singing lyrics like: “Lovers in the night, poets trying to write/We don’t know how to rhyme, but damn we try ” or “Black eyes open wide, it’s time to testify/There’s no room for lies when everyone’s waiting for you.” (Relatedly, the opening of “Shallow” is a dupe for “More Than Words,” in my opinion.)
But then, no spoilers, as the movie took a turn into what felt like caricature and condescension toward both of its co-leads, the performances suffered. Because it is hard to be convincing when it feels like your character has thrown away all of her best shirts for no reason or you make a life-altering choice without doing much to account for where it came from.
Still, the best actor in the entire movie was the woman at the checkout counter at the grocery store. She really inhabited the surprise of seeing a celebrity while working a quiet night shift. —Katie McDonough
The Music and Performances
Okay, first of all it’s unclear to me exactly who Jackson Maine is built in the image of—he’s definitely a rock star (constantly “ripping” solos with Cooper’s hands successfully obscured by lens flare to cover up any incorrect handiwork) with country leanings (?) a la Jack White and Chris Stapleton. It’s not that I don’t think his music is good (it was smart getting Jason Isbell to write “Maybe It’s Time,” the one he sings impromptu at the drag bar), but this really isn’t the kind of mega-famous rock star we get nowadays (that would be Maroon 5). I believed Cooper as a greasy, purist rock musician, but I’m not sure if I believed he’d actually be that famous.
On the flip side, the movie unsurprisingly does such a good job replicating perfect, mindless pop for Ally. The song about sexy butts that drive Gaga crazy, “Why Did You Do That?” is realistically stupid without being a joke. I totally bought all of the fake-deep synth pop she was making. Would I listen to any of outside of the movie? Nah, considering Ally songs seem to sound mostly like Katy Perry rejects, but they get the job done, you know? Also, can I say what a joy it is to see Gaga play a pop star like this? Watching someone like Gaga dial back on her entire career and play someone this green was the best part of the movie for me. Watching her lip-sync and do that basic ass choreography on SNL knowing what a real Gaga performance on that show is… well, now that’s acting, folks.
If I’m being honest, the movie only has three really good songs, the first being the magnificent “Shallow,” which would absolutely be a hit song even if this movie didn’t exist. It’s funny having heard the song so many times and only getting the glorious “AAAHHHHH AAAOOOAAAHHH” in the trailer and then seeing it play out in full because, damn, Ally really gets serious fast despite being so “nervous” a few seconds before. The other two songs are Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way,” a dreary piano ballad that she performs literally minutes before she’s approached by a record label executive. And then there’s the final song, “I’ll Never Love Again,” which is the only song I can see eclipsing “Shallow” as an Oscar winner. In fact, I’m like 99 percent sure it will win the Oscar. It is so stunning and Gaga does a lot of it in this breathy falsetto and then gradually wilds out. It’s the perfect end to the movie and a reminder that, good lord, this movie needed Gaga. —Hazel Cills
The Supporting Cast
Reviewing the supporting cast of A Star Is Born means I spent almost two hours waiting for Halsey to show up. But A Star Is Born actually shows off its best supporting actors right away, in the first act. To my surprise and delight, Shangela of Drag Race fame plays a no-funny-business owner of a drag bar, where Ally performs and meets Jackson; someone describes her wig as a “bus driver wig” and I will never forget that. When that line was uttered, I still had hopes that I would enjoy the movie. I won’t elaborate.
Shangela kills it, as does her counterpart and fellow Drag Race alum, Willam Belli. They have some of the best lines of dialogue, and I wish they could have at least performed with Ally at one point. Moving on, Sam Elliott plays Jackson’s brother Bobby, an old man with white hair and a shock of black eyebrows who yells at Jackson for not giving a shit about his impending hearing loss because he is too proud as a rockstar. I appreciate Elliott’s tough love throughout the movie, although I hated his voice, which was like Jackson’s but worse.
Ally’s best friend at work is Ramon, played by Anthony Ramos. I really enjoyed his energy in the beginning of the film, as he helps Ally take risks and follow her heart, but then we don’t see much him after the first act. That’s show business, huh? He makes another appearance towards the end of the film and it is sad and touching, and I decide that Ramon is the person I would most likely be friends with for real in this movie. Ally’s dad is a driver and he employs a man named Wolfie, played by Orange Is The New Black’s Michael Harney. I like him! I can’t remember any of his lines. The manager who approached Ally on tour with Jackson is played by Rafi Gavron. I spend the entire movie trying to figure out where his accent is supposed to be from. He wears those short socks that make you look like you’re not wearing socks, and Jackson doesn’t trust him.
DAVE CHAPPELLE SHOWS UP, because of course he does. His character, George, finds Jackson passed out in his front lawn one day. George wears a newsboy cap and clearly cares about Jackson. For that reason, I like George and trust him. He also lives in Memphis where apparently anyone can get married on a whim on a Saturday, which, if true, is pretty cool about Memphis. And FINALLY HALSEY SHOWS UP!!! She is presenting the award for Best New Artist at the Grammys, for which Ally is nominated. In my notes, I wrote down, “Looks like a beautiful giraffe,” but I hate her dress. I would watch a movie about Ally and Halsey and the ways in which their different journeys to stardom intersect. Would they record a song together? Free idea for a bonus track for the soundtrack, just saying.
All in all, this movie had a good supporting cast, with a few standout roles (Shangela, Ramos, Chappelle, maybe Halsey?), and I wish I could have seen more of them, but that might have made this movie five hours long instead of just four-and-a-half hours long, which I’m not sure I would have been able to bear. —Frida Garza
My favorite line in the film comes when Halsey, who’s playing Halsey, announces the winner of Best New Artist at the Grammys. “How great,” she says, feeling great about it. Other than that, and maybe “We’re both waitin’ for daddy,” none of the other lines stood out, and I think that’s by design. The dialogue is very unassuming and lacking in the spectacle seen elsewhere in the film, perhaps the result of all the improvising Gaga and Cooper did while filming. This naturalistic approach lends a lot of intimacy to the actors’ performances and it mostly works, save for a couple of seemingly improvised moments that read more like recovered flubs than real conversation (Gaga’s “boyfriend”/“husband” moment and forth in the bathtub, the “Eat your breakfast. I mean, eat your food. I don’t even know what meal it is!”) and which perhaps should’ve been replaced with a different take.
Still, like I said, it works. It’s the pacing that’s the problem. After a perfect first act culminating with Ally’s titular star-birth, the film’s depiction of her career takes an impressionist turn, saving all the earlier specificity and character development for Cooper’s Jackson Maine. There are a lot of gaps and “How did we get here?” moments, and I wish we’d gotten to see more of Ally’s side of things as she went from regular girl to famous lady. She probably struggled with it? At times?? Maybe there are scenes that didn’t make the final cut. A Star Is Born credits three writers with its screenplay, not counting the six people credited with writing earlier iterations of the film. Maybe it’s the director’s fault—Cooper might have had to cut a lot of the second and third acts to keep the run time under two-and-a-half hours, but I felt those gaps all the same and wish someone had filled them. —Harron Walker
The Costume Design
Going into this film I assumed costume designer Erin Benach would have a fairly straightforward task: Bradley Cooper, in his reported desire for his role to mimic Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, could just be adorned with a bunch of faded t-shirts in various shades of khaki while Lady Gaga could just do a choker and crop top like she did in the trailer. Cooper, for what it’s worth, was exactly that—as Jackson Maine/Eddie Vedder, he got dark-colored tees and an assortment of tan/brown jean jackets straight from Pearl Jam’s 1992 MTV Unplugged concert. The only thing missing was the Sharpie.
But because the rather broad-stroke script spanned so many character transformations on the part of Gaga’s character, Ally, Benach was tasked with signifying these changes purely visually through the costuming. At first, when Ally’s still a singer in a drag bar moonlighting at a shitty catering place (I think?), she’s dressed down in FLARED pants and a leather, and for some reason sleeps in a vintage Yes band t-shirt that probably cost a shit-ton of money on eBay. As she becomes more successful, money brings her quasi-Nudie suits and fringe, stage outfits for Jackson’s touring singer-keyboardist-lover. And when she breaks out solo and goes pop, the only thing more distracting from a rather rockist interpretation of Jessica Rabbit-red hair-as-soulless-pop star are her ensembles, which seem plucked from 2009 in a real art-imitates-life throwback to make you feel weird about the shit you wore in 2009: high-low skirts, polka dot sequins, a garish gold lamé gown with tiered ruffles and a silvery embellishment, very antebellum in the Vegas megaclub.
The one part that made me mad was during Ally’s pop-star debut at SNL, in which iridescent, fluoro track suits were meant to show how manufactured she’d become. HOW YOU GONNA SHIT ON IRIDESCENT TRACK SUITS! Send them all to me!
There was also one deeply confounding moment I cannot parse, in which Ally (spoiler) goes to visit Jackson in rehab after not seeing him for months, and in that moment, decides to wear: a black-and-yellow ruffle-sleeved blouse that had the words “Oh. Oh. Oh.” all over it, with red-and-black python leather leggings. I do not understand this choice from a motivational perspective—were we to think that Ally was just so devastated from loneliness she stopped caring about what she wore, or she just wanted to look absurd for her husband to cheer him up? I also do not understand this from a costume designer perspective, as the “Oh. Oh. Oh.” pattern was deeply distracting during what was ostensibly one of many deeply emotional scenes. Please feel free to theorize this with me, because I’m at a loss. —Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
The 7 p.m. showing somehow didn’t occupy the largest theatre in the venue, but it did nearly sell out. There were maybe three unfilled seats if that, and most of the theatre—like the cast—was white. The scene that provoked the most mixed array of reactions and emotions in a short time took place outside the Super A Foods store. From silence as Ally (Gaga) sang her first verse in “Shallow,” which seemed to read into Jackson’s core, to laughter as he drunkenly and lovingly stared at her as she got up and into the chorus, the scene was reflective of the rollercoaster ride of emotions that was A Star Is Born. I pity the fool who did not have a glass of wine during or before this film, because after is a no-go. The second half of the film left the audience mostly silent, as the plot took a turn and left us feeling some feelings. The abrupt ending was followed by a rapid exit by the audience, with the exception of two elder couples who lingered behind and seemed exceptionally taken aback. Lots of photos, conversation and analyzing ensued outside the venue, though. Then, everyone went their separate ways and, I suspect, downloaded the soundtrack on Spotify before making some Oscar noms predictions.
“Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?” That’s this movie, to me and all previously thought emotionless shells sitting at the Union Square Theatre, wiping their eyes at the end of premiere day. Prior to taking us all to the deep end, and embarrassing me in front of my coworkers, this movie was partially—if solely based on audience reactions—a comedy. Unintentionally, the script, paired with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s sexual tension and chemistry throughout, was filled with comedic moments.
To kick things off, the audience clapped as soon as the movie started. I’m not sure if that was because they were pleased the excruciatingly long slew of trailers had come to an end or because they’d waited months to see this film and had finally found their way here. Jackson took his first sip of alcohol, and I took mine. Several other moments in the first half of the film rendered cathartic applause, including Cooper and Gaga’s performance of “Shallow,” which I’m currently listening to, stellar acting on behalf of drag queens, and Gaga’s belting of AHHOEEAAHHHAAAAHHHHHHHH—all of which led my coworker Harron Walker to say with absolute glee, “This audience is gayer than I thought!” Half of the most emotive responses to funny moments on-screen came from a few rows on the floor seats. The rest came from our couple of rows—my favorite oohs, ahhs and “Are you fucking kidding me?” coming from Megan Reynolds, whose body has been waiting for this moment. —Ecleen Caraballo
How Drunk Were We?
Assigned to be the group narc, I kept tabs on what my coworkers were drinking, how much, and how often. Clover stocked up on three cans of rosé, Bud Light from the office, and tiny bottles of Jose Cuervo, Patrôn, and Maker’s Mark, which she, Maria, and Hazel smuggled into their bags. Along with Julianne, the three of them also got a head start with beers in the office. At the beginning of the movie, Julianne lamented that she was not “drunk enough” for this.
Once at the theater, no one drank until the lights went out—except for me, a decision I defend, because previews are tedious. Harron poured her can of rosé into a cup with ice. Very classy. Megan and Katie abstained from alcohol, but Katie was sufficiently stoned. In the middle of the movie, about an hour in, Julianne and I each wanted more alcohol, but Hazel and Clover were out, and Maria was too far away to ask. In the end, however, this proved to work out in our favor. As drunken idiots, we probably would have been loudly wailing, sobbing, or yelling, “What the FUCK?”
Instead, sustaining a 2 out 5 level of drunkenness, I was fighting tears at the end, Clover was wiping away tears, and Maria was perhaps okay with the fact that she couldn’t. By her assessment, she was, “Not drunk enough to cry, tipsy enough to accidentally kick a Bud Light can on the theater floor and laugh at wholly inappropriate moments.” Ultimately, two drinks was just the right amount of alcohol to enjoy the movie’s highs and lows and laugh at the vast stretches of cheesiness punctuated, every now and then, by a surprisingly earnest emotional reaction. With anything less we would have been too critical to experience Jack and Ally’s weird duet magic, and with anything more we would have become total emotional wrecks. —Prachi Gupta
The Oscars love a performance. But they sure love a performance. And the red carpet was pre-rolled out for A Star Is Born to be an awards season baby, even if it ultimately wins nothing. We knew as much when we first heard Bradley Cooper was directing a remake of the iconic (although consensus says not that great) classic film that’s now been remade four times, this time with Lady Gaga attached. This version has all the elements of an Oscar aspirant: musical numbers, big stars, dark drama, and an (albeit strung together) rags-to-riches tale with an unpredictably somber third act—not to mention a months-long marketing effort to position “Shallow” as a pop force, a runaway Oscar contender, with assistance from memes driven by the internet and the Gaga fan engine, and a song that never leaves the comfortable confines of your head; although, Hazel (see above) makes a great case for “I’ll Never Love Again” as a strong contender.
Cooper will get the best director nomination he’s been campaigning for, but as everyone in the world has noted, it’s really Gaga who runs away with the show, with a sharp and sobering performance that showcases her potential to star in many more movies after this. A Star Is Born itself only deserves Oscars because it’s an Oscar movie, but I do wonder if the spectacle around its release will minimize the “seriousness” the Academy tends to slobber over.
Compared to, say, Vox Lux, you can guess that A Star Is Born is much more about entertainment than commentary (there’s a mixed or maybe unsettled message about the sacrifice of becoming a pop star and the value of pop music in general); still, I persevered through the narrative lapses and managed to enjoy it. (Existential question: Why do we like bad things?) My biggest bet (again, no surprise) is on Gaga being nominated for Best Actress in a tough field, with medium odds that she’ll win. My Oscar senses say it’ll pick up nominations for Best Original Song, Best Supporting Actor (for Sam Elliott, who plays Jackson’s thick-browed brother Bobby), Best Actress, Best Picture, and... congratulations to Bradley Cooper... Best Director. —Clover Hope